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Now or never: Jesus has one season to convince Man City he can be Aguero's successor

12:00 PM GMT+4 25/08/2019
Gabriel Jesus Manchester City 2019-20
After three-and-a-half years with the champions, the Brazilian faces a big campaign to convince Pep Guardiola he can be the club's long-term striker

When Gabriel Jesus’s injury-time winner against Tottenham was ruled out by VAR, it not only robbed Manchester City of two points, it blighted the brilliant start the Brazilian badly needs.

Jesus had already had a goal chalked off for a microscopic offside decision in the Premier League opener at West Ham. A winner against a title rival would have made up for that but, when VAR spotted the ball glancing Aymeric Laporte’s arm in the build-up, a late winner was dramatically ruled out for a second successive game against Spurs.

City's No.9 couldn’t hide his frustration, berating referee Michael Oliver, who stood stoically with his finger jammed in his ear.

This is a big season for Jesus if he is to fulfil his potential as the long-term successor to Sergio Aguero at the Etihad.

Aguero is now 31 and shows no signs of letting up his incredible strike rate, with last season his fifth in succession when he hit more than 20 Premier League goals. He has two already this campaign - ironically benefitting from a VAR decision when his missed penalty at West Ham was ordered to be retaken.

But Aguero has two years remaining on his contract  and hopes to return to his boyhood club Independiente when it runs out , and City will be already scouting potential candidates to replace him.

Where any new signing will sit in the pecking order will depend on Jesus’s performance over the next few months.

City have huge faith in the long-term future of Jesus, rewarding him with a new five-year contract in 2018 as the club moved to tie down the majority of their exciting young talent.

“Gabriel is undoubtedly one of the best young forwards in world football,” director of football Txiki Begiristain commented at the time.

He is still only 22 despite being a veteran of three league titles - two with City, one in Brazil with former club Palmeiras - a successful Copa America and a far less successful World Cup.

And there’s an excitement amongst insiders at the club’s training ground that this is the season when Jesus will take the next step to becoming a star.

His return comes on the back of leading the attack in his home country as Brazil secured their first Copa America for 12 years with goals in each of the victories over Argentina and Peru in the semi-final and final respectively.

Previously he had started campaigns in difficult periods. In his first full season he returned to the miserable Manchester weather in August 2017 as a young man and without his close circle of friends and beloved mother Vera Lucia. It wasn’t until they arrived in mid-December that he was able to find his very best form.

Another setback followed the next summer when he was singled out for criticism after Brazil’s dismal World Cup campaign when he failed to score. “I went to the World Cup as a key player and I ended up not scoring. It affects you,” he admitted afterwards.

Despite that, he finished last season with a solid return of 21 goals and shone at Wembley in the FA Cup to help City to the third leg of an unprecedented domestic treble, scoring twice in the final against Watford and the only goal in the semi-final victory over Brighton.

After reproducing that form at the Copa, there’s a buzz about the way Jesus has returned excited and energised with a feeling that he is fully ready to step out of Aguero’s shadow.

Pep Guardiola played down a touchline tiff with the Argentinian after substituting him in the draw with Spurs but there’s no doubting that Jesus looked sharper and more dynamic as his replacement.

For the first time since his very earliest days at the club, Jesus could claim to be the go-to striker for City’s trip to Bournemouth on Sunday.

It was at the same venue in February 2017, just three games into his City career, when Jesus was justifiably picked as the No.9 while club legend Aguero cut a glum figure in the ugly Vitality Stadium dugouts.

A blistering 4-0 victory away to West Ham the week before saw Jesus, Leroy Sane and Raheem Sterling match hard work with devastating speed and quality, just as Guardiola had demanded and Aguero had seemingly struggled to produce.

But 15 minutes into that game at Bournemouth, Jesus hobbled off with a broken metatarsal that would keep him out for two months of the season and Aguero responded to Guardiola’s gameplan with possibly his best individual performances of his City career.

Since then, Jesus has largely been the stand-in - a cover for injuries, cup ties and busy schedules.

The Brazilian is happy at City, but not content to play back-up forever.

"I want to be involved and I want to help my team-mates, respecting my manager,” he said in the summer. “But of course I'm hoping to get minutes.

"Last season I didn't play as much, but I expect and wish to play a little more, not to put pressure [on Guardiola], but on myself. Sometimes I don't play as much as I wanted because of me. I have got to be strong and work hard. If I get the chance, I won't let it go."

His happiness and determination has been picked up by coaching staff and he now feels more comfortable in Manchester being able to communicate in English as well as an expanded Portuguese-speaking influence at the club.

If he is to convince Guardiola and the City hierarchy that he is ready to shoulder the load of being the top striker at a club intent on domestic domination and competing for Champions Leagues on an annual basis, this is the season.

City have shown they are eager to use the transfer market to keep getting stronger and will do so again when the time comes to replace Aguero. Jesus is determined to prove that his successor is already at the club.