Gabriel Jesus continues to light up the Premier League with Manchester City, but he has now revealed that he was so good as a child that he could have had his legs broken!
The Brazil international has scored eight goals and provided three assists in 16 games for Pep Guardiola's side thus far this season, with City 11 points clear of second-placed Manchester United at the top of the Premier League table.
Jesus, born in Sao Paulo, began his professional career with Palmeiras, but started playing, as so many Brazilian greats do, on the streets.
Such was his precocious talent, however, he swiftly became a target for hs older opponents, even at the tender age of 13.
"So at 13 years old, I started playing with grown men in the Várzea," he explained in a piece with the Players Tribune.
"O.K. - everybody in São Paulo knows what I’m talking about right now (and they probably just started laughing). But for everybody else, I will explain…. The Várzea is kind of like street basketball in America, or like the semi-professional football leagues in Europe. The pitches are all dirt, and you’re playing against the marmanjo — the 'hard men'. It’s known for being extremely physical. There was a lot of nasty stuff going down on the field.
"I’ll never forget one moment… We were playing a very important match against this big team. They’d always had one of the best teams in the Várzea, but they’d been out of the league for a few years for reasons that I don’t want to get into. There’s probably kids reading.
"This was their first year back in the league, and they were playing us in a game to qualify for a big tournament. I remember all their players were looking at me before the match like, 'Who is this little-ass kid? Is this serious?' It was serious.
"Four minutes into the match, I dribbled their best defender and scored a goal, and I remember them all looking at me like, O.K., kid. We’re going to make your life hell.
"So they started beating me up every time I touched the ball. They got pretty crazy — like they were really coming after me to hurt me. This one short midfielder on their team was known to be a bully, and he kept saying, 'I’m going to break your legs if you try to dribble me again.'
"So I got the ball … and I dribbled him again. It was like the NBA. I broke his ankles. I made him fall right on his ass. Now they were looking at me like they were going to actually kill me.
"But … what can I say? When I have the ball at my feet, I’m in different world. So I got the ball again, and I did a no-look dummy pass to my teammate for a goal. The crowd was going crazy."
"The game ended up finishing 2-2, and we won on penalty kicks. They were so pi**ed. At the whistle, the bully turned to me and said, 'I told you I was going to break your legs, kid. I’ll see you in the parking lot.'
"He was serious. It was pretty intense. I remember thinking, 'Wow … I might not get out of here'. Luckily, though, my teammates protected me. They all gathered around me and got me to the parking lot without any trouble, and I made it home safe."
While the story may horrify some fans, especially Manchester City supporters who could have been deprived of Jesus' talents, it had a remarkable, happy ending.
Indeed, while he may have referred to the player as a "bully", Jesus says that, due to a quirk of fate, they ended up sharing a selfie!
"But that’s not even the end of the story," he added. "Last Christmas, I went home to see my family, and I had to go to the bank to do some paperwork. So I pull my car into the parking lot, and the guy taking the tickets in the little booth …
"This guy looks familiar.
"And he’s giving me this look, like he knows me. He hands me my ticket. But he’s still looking at me. And then he says, 'Hey — little kid! Little kid!' I’m looking back at him like, huh?
"He says, 'Remember me? The Várzea, bro! I was going to break your legs!' I’m like, Oh my god. I didn’t know what he was going to do. And then he says, 'Man, I was really going to break your legs. Can you believe that?'
"And I was trying to play it cool, like, 'Come on, bro. No you weren’t. I know you were kidding.'
"And he says, 'No, bro. No. I was really going to break your legs. And now you play for my favorite team, man! I love you, bro! I can’t believe it! Can you imagine if I had broken your legs?'
"We laughed, and I took a picture with him."