Brazil: Firmino’s perception and why Jesus will start at World Cup 2018

Brazil isn't big enough for the both of them...


REUTERS/Andrew Yates

“This town ain’t big enough for the both of us,” said American pop group Sparks in 1974 and, perhaps, nothing is more apt when it comes to the contentious topic of selecting Brazil’s number nine.

Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola was absolutely correct when he said that Brazil were “lucky” to have “two incredible strikers” in Roberto Firmino and Gabriel Jesus, but as Sparks so astutely predicted all those years ago, there’s only space for one.

They clearly knew something we didn’t. No wonder it hit number two in the UK singles chart.

RealSport examine which striker Tite should select ahead of Brazil’s World Cup opener against Switzerland on June 17th.

Seasons by numbers

If Tite is basing his decision based on the opening of the 2017/18 season, the decision becomes far simpler given Jesus’ stunning form at the beginning of Manchester City’s title-winning campaign. 

REUTERS/Phil Noble

The 21-year-old opened his account against Bournemouth in August, scoring another four goals in his next three games in all competitions, including a brace in a 5-0 victory over Firmino’s Liverpool.  Jesus also netted three goals and assisted one across three games at the beginning of October.

In fairness to his compatriot, Firmino, too, was involved in six goals in five games in August (3G, 3A).

Gabriel JesusRoberto Firmino
Appearances4459
Goals1929
Assists514
Chances created2676

A comparison of season statistics -across all competitions- show that Firmino was more prolific in front of goal, scoring 10 more than Jesus -a career high (29)- whilst having a better all-round involvement in chance creation, assisting nine more goals than his compatriot, whilst creating 50 more chances.

KEY STAT: Firmino scored or assisted 0.73 goals per game in all competitions, whilst Jesus managed 0.55.

Whilst Firmino continued his phenomenal performances, culminating in two goals and two assists in the 5-2 Champions League semi-final first leg win over Roma, as well as a spot in the UEFA Squad of the Season, Jesus stagnated somewhat, suffering a knee injury that kept him sidelined throughout January and February.

VERDICT: Roberto Firmino

Humble offerings

In terms of what the duo bring to the table, it’s a lot.

Pep Guardiola prioritises versatility in his players, hence the £27 million acquisition of Jesus in January 2017. The striker isn’t just a traditional striker, though he is capable of fulfilling those duties, but an equally adept false nine, inside forward or attacking midfielder.

REUTERS/Andrew Boyers

Firmino, however, isn’t dissimilar. An attacking midfielder at Hoffenheim, he began his Liverpool career as a left winger before establishing himself as Jurgen Klopp’s number nine.

The German has repeatedly referred to the 26-year-old as Liverpool’s “engine,” the one player that propels the team’s relentless counter-attacks, the one truly embodying Klopp’s style of football.

Gabriel JesusRoberto Firmino
Tackles won1544
Aerial duels2143
Interceptions814

Firmino has acquired this reputation primarily for his undying energy and suitability for a high-pressing system, deriving from his defensive work rate.

KEY STAT: Aside from Cesar Azpilicueta, Firmino made more tackles than any defender from a top six Premier League club.

For instance, the striker completed the second most tackles of any forward in the Premier League (44) and dwarfed Jesus’ domestic defensive contribution. Hence, Firmino would bring more to the richly spread Brazilian table.

VERDICT: Roberto Firmino

The ‘more Brazilian’ Brazilian

Herein lies the problem, however.

Brazilian football is flare, it’s trickery, it’s skill straight off the streets of the favela. Firmino, by contrast, epitomises perspiration, whereas Jesus is far more in keeping with the Brazilian philosophy.

Hard work is revered across the continent, more so given the current popularity of high-pressing, but far less appreciated within Brazil, such was the discontent with former manager Dunga’s more pragmatic, defensively orientated football of the previous World Cup.

REUTERS/Andrew Yates

For many in Brazil, Firmino is quintessential to Dunga’s un-Brazilian philosophy. Hence the calls to call-up 2017 Brazilian Serie A top scorer Jo, or Diego Souza, as Jesus’ back-up.

Consider this.

Our kids shouldn’t leave the country too early, otherwise they’ll face the same stuff Firmino has to cope with when he comes to the national team – Influential Brazilian football commentator Walter Casagrande.

Jo, after flopping at Manchester City as a youngster, returned to Brazil to resurrect his career, whilst Souza only had two very brief spells in Europe -one in Portugal, the other Ukraine. Firmino, though, spent just the solitary season with Figueirense before moving to Hoffenheim.

Jesus, dissimilarly, spent two years developing a cult-like status with his local club Palmeiras, winning the Serie A title and earning plaudits as the Bola de Ouro in 2016, the best player in the league.

REUTERS/Paulo Whitaker

He’s so loved, Jesus, that his image was painted onto the walls of the houses in his local neighbourhood after news of his place in the World Cup squad broke.

Little known in Brazil after forging his career in Europe, Firmino, thus, doesn’t have a local fanbase to sing his praises.

Jesus, moreover, like Neymar and Philippe Coutinho, amongst others, is charismatic, whilst Firmino is more shy, reserved and reluctant to give interviews, which doesn’t win him any favours with Brazilians craving another flamboyant personality such as Ronaldinho or the colourful character of Garrincha.

Is it surprising, therefore, how much Jesus is revered within Brazil?

VERDICT: Gabriel Jesus

The international stage

It’s not as if Jesus is being given unwarranted opportunities in the Brazilian national side. His form with Manchester City has earned him these starts, taking each with considerable aplomb.

For example, the 21-year-old has scored nine goals in 15 appearances for the Selecao thus far, including a debut brace against Ecuador in September 2016, in addition to seven crucial goals in ten games during the 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign.

REUTERS/Andrew Boyers

This stands in stark contrast to Firmino’s six goals in 20 Brazil appearances, only one of which came during the World Cup qualifying campaign, with his first under Tite coming in the 2-0 win over Croatia last Sunday.

KEY STAT: Gabriel Jesus was Brazil’s top scorer in their CONMEBOL World Cup qualifiers.

With Neymar injured for a large section of Brazil’s qualifying campaign, Jesus is widely regarded as the player leading Tite’s Brazilian revival and, thus, the fans’ favourite to start in Russia.

VERDICT: Gabriel Jesus

“I’m here when needed…”

Tite took a gamble on Jesus to fill the long-term void at striker and the youngster paid him back handsomely, linking brilliantly with Neymar in the process. The two have fostered a strong connection, another reason the 21-year-old is unlikely to be dropped.

Whoever Tite chooses, I’ll respect it 100% and I’m here when needed, to give my best for the team – Roberto Firmino.

Jesus will start, deservedly in the eyes of Brazilians, but Firmino will be there, waiting, biding his time until his moment arises, which it certainly well. He will, however, have the watchful eyes of an entire nation scrutinising his every touch.

  1. POLL: Who should lead the line for Brazil at the World Cup?

    1. Roberto Firmino
    2. Gabriel Jesus
    173 votes
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Oli Stein

Oli graduated from the University of Bristol with a degree in History and has worked with RealSport since September 2016.

Currently assistant football editor and Tottenham correspondent.

Follow him on Twitter: @steinoliver_

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