Fans of Barcelona and Real Madrid can be forgiven for a feeling of deja vu around their club’s apparent pursuits this summer of much hyped Brazilian teenage sensation Gabriel Jesus.
Not too many people in Europe will have yet seen Gabriel Jesus play, but he’s all over the media this summer, with regular stories saying that Madrid and Barca are joined by other top European clubs including Manchester City, Manchester United, Bayern Munich, Paris Saint Germain and Inter Milan in the race for the starlet’s signature.
No 2016 transfer saga would be complete without a Chinese club looking to smash some records - and sure enough Jiangsu Suning are also apparently considering a move for the 19-year-old.
In fairness, the youngster himself has been helping to fuel the speculation, with 10 goals in the first 15 games of this year’s Campeonato Brasileiro Serie A for table-toppers Palmeiras, having last season been named best newcomer, as he helped the Sao Paulo club win the Copa do Brasil.
There is something slightly worrying about the way the saga has been whipped up over recent months however - and regular readers of Spanish and Catalan transfer speculation will have spotted a few warning signs.
Mundo Deportivo spotted Barca’s sporting director Robert Fernandez attending Palmeiras’ 1-0 win over Internacional last Sunday, accompanied by the club’s South American transfer representative Andre Cury, one of those who set up the still controversial 2013 deal which brought Neymar to the Camp Nou.
Barca’s director of football Raul Sanllehi is also said to have played a key role in positioning Barca to get Gabriel Jesus, as he and Cury apparently met with Palmeiras’ sporting director Alexandre Mattos last spring, just as the kid was really emerging as a potential superstar.
The timing was perfect as both one-time Nike executives happened to be in Brazil at the time, working on getting Neymar’s camp to agree to extend his contract. Cury and Sanllehi were among the masterminds behind that original deal - and both have avoided any fall-out even as the club admitted it had deliberately mislead the Spanish taxman and paid millions of euros in fines.
In another echo of that 2013 saga, there has been a lot of talk about how Madrid are aiming to hijack Barca’s current plans to get Gabriel Jesus to sign - and in this way exact revenge for Barca besting them when signing Neymar three years back. Sport say Madrid are apparently willing to offer much higher wages and extra sweeteners including a €6 million bonus for the player and €5 million for his agents. According to AS, to confirm a deal this summer would require the payment of €10 million in agents’ commissions, and Blancos president Florentino Perez could do just that.
Marca claim that Palmeiras’ executive Mattos has been in Madrid this week and spoken with Blancos counterpart Jose Angel Sanchez to discuss a deal for Gabriel Jesus. They say the move is being put together by Madrid’s international director Juni Calafat, an “incredibly knowledgeable” Brazilian football expert who previously helped bring Brazilian youngsters such as Willian Jose and Lucas Silva to the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu, and was apparently part of Madrid’s plan to try and get Neymar to leave Barca and join them this summer.
That Luis Figo-style plan did not work out, and neither Willian Jose nor Lucas Silva were much of a success at the Bernabeu either - with Silva’s €14 million transfer in June 2015 not having worked out at all. At that time AS reported that the young midfielder’s former club Cruzeiro were getting just 30 per cent of the money Madrid were paying, with the remainder shared between four different investors and the player’s camp.
Anyone looking to sign Gabriel Jesus this summer will also have to put together a similarly complex deal. His Palmeiras contract reportedly includes a €24 million buy-out clause, is ‘co-owned’ by third-party investors. Brazilian outlet Globo Esporte break his ownership down as 30% for Palmeiras, 22.5% for his former agent Fabio Caran, and 47.5% split between investor Cristiano Simoes and the player himself.
It really is remarkable how the journalists reporting on the transfer are so well informed about the minute details of the contracts and negotiations. Either that or they are being regularly briefed by different parties who have a certain interest in big money deals getting done.
Given all these reported / alleged / potential Neymar-type shenanigans, it was perhaps wise of the teenager himself to eschew comparisons with the Barca star last weekend, and say that he was actually more like [Brazilian] Ronaldo in playing style saying he could see some of his younger self in the starlet.
Next up for Gabriel Jesus is a chance to show his talents to a wider audience at this summer’s Olympic football tournament in Rio de Janeiro, where he will form part of the Brazil front-line alongside national captain Neymar and another much hyped youngster Gabigol.
Speaking on Sunday after his last club game before the Olympics he told Brazilian outlet Radio Globo that the plan now was to return to Palmeiras after the tournament was over and remain there until the end of their 2016 campaign at least.
“I want to return as league leader and top scorer,” Gabriel Jesus said. “It is already clear that I will stay until the end of the year. Maybe even next year. I do not know my future yet.”
The latest reports say that either Madrid or Barcelona would be happy to get his signature now, and then loan him back to Palmeiras before he eventually comes to Europe in either 12 or 18 months time.
Whatever happens this summer, as with Neymar’s 2013 move, it seems we won’t soon hear the last of Gabriel Jesus and his complex ownership structure.