Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola avoided backing Gabriel Jesus to start over Roberto Firmino as Brazil’s No. 1 striker at the World Cup this summer, telling ESPN Brazil it’s “a debate.”
Firmino enjoyed a breakout season for Liverpool in 2017-18, reaching a career high in goals (27) in 53 matches thus far. However, Jesus, who Brazil boss Tite has said will enter World Cup camp as the starting No. 9, saw his campaign hindered by injuries, which has opened the debate in the Brazilian media over who should be the Selecao‘s first choice this summer.
Guardiola has coached Jesus since the 21-year-old moved to the Etihad from Palmeiras in January 2017, but told ESPN Brazil that the national team is lucky to have both players to choose from.
Asked how he viewed the Jesus-versus-Firmino situation, Guardiola said: “It’s Tite’s problem, not mine. But it’s a debate.
“I can imagine what Brazil can be like in a World Cup on a media level. If you play one, you have to play the other, if you play the other, you have to play the one. It’s an endless discussion.
“Lucky for Brazil that they have two incredible strikers.”
Jesus has scored nine goals in 15 appearances for his country, which included a number of stunning performances in crucial World Cup qualifiers this term as well as the lone goal in a friendly defeat of Germany in Berlin back in March. Firmino, meanwhile, has scored just five goals in 18 chances with the Selecao, and only once on Tite’s watch.
Guardiola added: “Gabriel has an energy, his desire is contagious, his movement … I think that this will calm down with age. Firmino is older, has already played in other places.
“I think Gabriel never will lose the energy and it’s wonderful in solidarity with his quality, but with time he’ll be a wiser player, he’ll understand when to make that movement and another.
“Firmino is an older player, with impressive quality, I met him at Hoffenheim. He’s a player who knows how to play, is a goalscorer like Gabriel. [Brazil] have two fantastic strikers.”
Guardiola led City to a record-breaking campaign in his second year in charge at the Etihad, smashing league marks for points and goals while cruising to Premier League and League Cup glory.
It was a far cry from his first season in Manchester which was preceded by fabulous success at Bayern Munich that many thought he’d replicate immediately in England.
“Last season has helped us to understand a lot of things so that we apply this season,” Guardiola said. “People usually believe that coaches, no matter who they are, arrive at a club and things start working fine. And it is not like that. Sometimes it goes faster, but sometimes it doesn’t.”
Asked if he ever doubted himself in that inaugural season, Guardiola said: “I don’t know… Sometimes I thought: I won’t accomplish the same as always.
“But I have never doubt on how to do it, never. I am very clear and psychologically strong about it. From where I want to play, how I want to play, with who I want to play with and how we are doing it. If you don’t succeed, you go home and that’s it. No problem.”
Guardiola’s journey has taken him to La Liga, the Bundesliga and the Premier League and he’s learned lessons at each stop.
“In Spain, I learned a lot since [Johan] Cruyff’s arrival, from [legendary Real Madrid sides] Quinta del Buitre. With sports journalists like Jorge Valdano, Santiago Segurola,” he said. “People who helped us to understand what Spain means as a national team, and Spanish teams winning every year in the Champions League and Europa League playing in an attractive way, with technique, making La Liga fascinating to watch.
“In Germany, I learned about counter-attacks and how important they are. Also about how well organised the Bundesliga is. The Germans are not only about running and running, but also about playing good football. I was very happy in Germany, especially in Munich.
“Finally, in England I found a very tough league, many fixtures, weather conditions that affect the game, there is a lot of contact, a lot of permissiveness from the referees … It is a very intense league and we were able to control it all season long.”
He’s also worked with many of the world’s top players and has organised some of the top midfield pairings in recent times, like Xavi and Andres Iniesta at Barcelona, and David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne with City.
“Yes, that I can do. And I’ll do it because all four are amazing!” he said, when asked to compare the dynamic duos. “If we had so much success here [Manchester] and in Barcelona that’s because of the central midfielders.
“Xavi was a player with outstanding control and dynamic, he couldn’t lose the ball. He could control the game rhythm, reading perfectly when to accelerate … Andres is similar, but always changing the pace. And David Silva is a mixture between both of them. David also knows when to control and when to accelerate. And Kevin is exuberant … He is not a controller, he is more dynamic, coming from behind, finishing, crossing, appearing here, then there, defending, attacking … He is a complete player, less control and much more movement. When he stops he is not that effective as Xavi, David and Andres.”
Sources have told ESPN FC that Guardiola is nearing a 12-month extension of his current deal with City. And despite Guardiola maintaining throughout his time in England that he will not stay for a long period, sources said he is now ready to commit to another year as the club bids to win its first-ever Champions League trophy.
Asked about the futire, he added: “There is always more. You may think there isn’t … The players you coach are responsible for new ways of thinking and insights. Sometimes you discover things you previously didn’t know, maybe pairing these two players will give you a good midfield movement, something like that.
“When I left Barcelona, I thought that my space to revolutionise was ended, but no. We have seen that there is always a way to do new things, especially because you have different players.”
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