Arsenal’s dressing room will have a familiar look for their new £45million signing Gabriel Jesus. Not only is he joining a squad which now boasts no fewer than four Brazilians, but all come from a 20-mile radius in the country’s biggest city, Sao Paulo.
Jesus himself was raised in Jardim Peri, Gabriel Magalhaes in Pirituba and Gabriel Martinelli in Guarulhos – all from the northern part of the town. Marquinhos, meanwhile, hails from Jardim Colombo, in the city’s sprawling western suburbs.
That Sao Paulo – rather than Islington – has turned into Arsenal’s talent factory should perhaps not be surprising, given the club’s technical director, Edu Gaspar, a key part of this process, is himself a paulista who was also born in Guarulhos.
A concrete jungle widely known for its work-hard-play-hard mentality, Sao Paulo – Brazil’s most populous city at 12 million – is often derided as being ugly, too noisy and fast-paced. It certainly lacks Rio’s beaches, or Salvador’s architecture, but what it lacks in sheen it makes up for in sporting prowess – and especially football.
Only south London and Paris can compete with Sao Paulo when it comes to producing elite talent, with the likes of Arsene Wenger considering it the world’s most fertile breeding ground. Over his 22-year spell with the club, he signed 11 Brazilian athletes, with seven of them being from Sao Paulo: Sylvinho, Juan, Edu, Julio Baptista, Denilson Pereira, Andre Santos and Gabriel Paulista.
“Players from Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo are different. One is a beach area [Rio] and the other is more hard-working. In Sao Paulo, they are fighters. It’s a city of workers,” Wenger observed in 2015.
Under the guidance of Edu, Arsenal are again determined to strengthen these ties. Telegraph Sport understands that they are currently in talks for a formal link-up with Sao Paulo FC after the Marquinhos signing this summer. Among other things, the deal would include a preferential option on youngsters from the Brazilian club.
In Everton Gushiken, the Londoners currently have a long-time scout in Brazil, but strongly considered adding another professional to the country’s operation early in 2020, with Edu leading the search for a name. Amongst those sounded out for the role was the club’s former man Sandro Orlandelli, who ended up moving to Red Bull Bragantino instead.
‘People usually refer to Sao Paulo as the engine of Brazil – that makes sense’
There is no straightforward answer as to how the Sao Paulo region produces so much talent, providing almost a third of the Selecao’s squad in the last World Cup.
“People usually refer to Sao Paulo as the engine of the country and that makes sense when you consider that most of the industries are all in that area. So if you are raised there, you will have the competitiveness factor with you from very early. It’s part of their culture”, Erasmo Damiani, who worked as Brazil team coordinator during the 2016 Olympic gold-medal campaign, told Telegraph Sport. “And that obviously extends to football. Whilst in Rio, you may see a kid taking seven shots on goal instead of 10 to leave early training and go to the beach, in Sao Paulo that doesn’t happen.
“Also, the level of competition that you have on the pitch in Sao Paulo you don’t find anywhere in Brazil. The three big teams [Corinthians, Palmeiras and Sao Paulo FC] have the best facilities, but that doesn’t mean that they always win. You’ve got other local sides such as Portuguesa, Nacional and Juventus and strong clubs from nearby cities like Santos, Guarani, Ponte Preta, Mirassol, Novorizontino and Audax. There isn’t only one path to success.”
Jesus’ rise to the top illustrates that. The 25-year-old had to wait patiently for his chance and featured teams for semi-amateur until the age of 15. It was then that he was snapped up by Palmeiras and first met Damiani. The boy known as Borel – because he resembled the Brazilian funk singer, Nego do Borel – would leave for City four years later as the club’s record sale at £27m.
Finding the next Jesus may not be an easy job, but the odds are far higher in Sao Paulo than anywhere else in the country.
“Being a megalopolis with plenty of opportunities, Sao Paulo attracts people from all parts of Brazil, so you have all different ethnic groups, biotypes and cultures,” said Junior Chavare, a former youth football director at Sao Paulo FC and other teams.
“The characteristics are extremely heterogeneous, which means that, unlike other places, you don’t have just one kind of player. You have several different kinds.
“On top of that, whether it’s for the great stadiums – in terms of numbers, only Buenos Aires has more – the weather – you have all four seasons in a week, so players experience winter before they actually move abroad – or the mentality, you’ve got all the conditions to develop an athlete that will be prepared for Europe when the time comes.”