Gabriel Jesus is a natural. He was a Brazilian title winner and an Olympic gold medallist while still a teenager. By the time he arrived at Manchester City the following year he had already scored five goals in his first six appearances for his country and looked an obvious bargain even at £27m. But there is much more to Jesus’ success than mere natural talent.
Even as he adapted quickly to life in England, he appreciated that more was needed.
Seven goals in his first 10 Premier League appearances won over the crowd. His 94th-minute winner against Southampton on the final afternoon of his first full season at City, took the team to 100 points. But throughout that campaign Jesus was demanding more of himself.
“Before I came to Manchester City,” Jesus tells Sky Sports, “I worked differently at my old club Palmeiras. I came here and I stayed for the first year and I felt something different.”
The demands of the Premier League were such that Jesus’ diet came under scrutiny. Pep Guardiola had to instruct him to stop drinking coca cola but that wasn’t the only issue.
“Pizza, bread, I loved all that,” he admits. “I loved burgers. That was all so bad for me and my body. But this was my life before Andre came.”
I loved burgers. That was all so bad for me and my body. But this was my life before Andre came.
The Andre to whom he is referring is Andre Cunha, now his personal performance coach.
Jesus made the decision to turn to his compatriot in the spring of 2018 and Cunha, who had owned his own fitness business in Brazil, arrived in Manchester that September with the aim of transforming the player’s professional life away from the football club.
“I asked Manchester City if I could try to do something at home with somebody who could come to see me so I found Andre and he is a top guy, a top professional,” Jesus explains.
“He knows everything so he has helped me a lot. Now my nutrition is much better than before, for sure. I don’t go crazy. I had to think ahead so I stopped with all that.
“Always in my life I want to learn more, improve more, everything. On the pitch, it is the same. When I feel something is wrong with me, with my body, with my quality, I try to improve. So I found Andre. I think it was a very good decision in my life.”
The work of personal coaches can be contentious in football. Naturally, clubs like to be able to control players’ training schedules so any extra activity can be seen as counterproductive.
But right from the beginning, Cunha’s work with Jesus has been in partnership with the club.
“I work closely with Manchester City and their staff are amazing,” Cunha tells Sky Sports.
“We have lots of meetings. Every week, when I send my plan to them, I ask them if they want me to change something. It is easier for me to adapt than them so I keep this in mind.
“They are exceptional professionals and I have learned so much from them. The way that I see it I am working indirectly for them because if Gabriel is fit that is good for the team. It is a great relationship and we want to create a 100 per cent athletic environment for Gabriel.
“I am not a specialist, my background is in strength and conditioning. But my job is to talk to the specialists and bring that information to Gabriel and apply it day by day. I take care of everything. I arrive in the day at the house of Gabriel and I go home late at night.
“He spends only one third of his life at the club. The other two thirds of the time he has to take care of his body and his mind. My job is a continuation of their job. We are a team.
“When their work finishes, my work starts.”
Cunha speaks “almost every day” with Tom Parry, the first-team nutritionist at Manchester City. The club colour-codes Jesus’ meals to put in the fridge at home and it is all planned out.
“Gabriel has improved a lot and he eats like an athlete now,” Cunha explains. “It is easy when you have a committed player because he accepts what we are doing. He realised that he needs to take care of his body because he needs his body to work.”
The training regime with Cunha even includes some yoga exercises.
“We do a lot of core stuff. We work on reflexes, mobility and stability. It is not yoga because that is a way of life with values behind it but we use the breathing exercise from yoga.”
That was all new to the boy from Jardim Peri in Sao Paulo.
“At the beginning I was thinking, ‘What is this?’ because I had never done it before in my life,” laughs Jesus. “But you control your breathing, how you exhale, and your heart. That is working for me. I hope I can keep working like that because it has helped me a lot.”
“When I talked with the guys back there, my old friends. They told me that there is a problem with the families at this difficult moment. It is so difficult, you know. So I try to help. I try to do my best for them because my real friends are from there. In my heart, I have to do it, you know. I am so happy to help them.
“It is not just because of the pictures of me on the streets. They love me and I love them because I come from them. It is the place where I learned everything I know in my life. Like I say, these are my real friends who know about my life, have lived my life with me every day so I have to do it.”
During lockdown, Jesus’ work with Cunha – over FaceTime – took on even greater importance as he was denied access to the training ground and forced to isolate at home.
“We worked a lot more than normal during quarantine,” says Jesus. “I hope that we have a holiday eventually because quarantine was no holiday for me, my friend!”
The content of the sessions – designed to “manage the damage” according to Cunha – also changed in order to ensure Jesus’ fitness levels stayed as high as possible.
“We used the lockdown to do things we cannot do during the season,” explains the trainer. “We worked on hypertrophy and muscle mass. You need to create fatigue for that.
“When the athlete is playing a lot of games, this work doesn’t match with what he is doing on the field. When he is playing, you have to work on strength and recovery.
“It was a challenge but I think we handled it well. Gabriel is very committed to his work.”
For Cunha, that is the most striking aspect.
“One of the best things about this project is that this is a young person with a very different mindset,” he adds. “It is amazing for me. You have a young player thinking about taking care of his body and his career. This is different. This is not usual. It is really impressive.
“He is very responsible. He is a great example to young athletes of the mindset that you need to take care of your career. He is a very smart guy. He knows what he has to do.”
It is why Jesus cannot wait for the restart.
“I am very fit and I am ready to play with my friends,” he concludes.
“We are ready because we are training so, so much. It is hard every day, every single day, every single session. We are training hard. Everybody knows this Premier League is done but we don’t have to give up because we have the Champions League as well and the FA Cup. We have to do everything to stay fit and play good. I think everyone is ready.”
Thanks to his regime, nobody is more ready than Gabriel Jesus.