The road from the fourth league to the World Cup in Qatar

Gabriel Martinelli

The case of Arsenal striker Gabriel Martinelli is a sensational one. He started playing futsal at Corinthians, was transferred by Ituano in 2015 to play in the Brazilian fourth league at the age of 14, and reached the quarter-finals of the Paulista championship in 2019, scoring 6 goals.

In 2018 he trained for two weeks with Barcelona B, but was not retained by the Catalans, so a year later he joined Arsenal for €6 million. He was only 17 at the time. Jurgen Klopp said of Gabriel after his early performances, “He is the talent of the century, an incredible striker”.

Now 21, he has played in all of Arsenal’s games this season as a starter in the Premier League, scoring five times in 14 games. Now valued at €60 million, Martinelli, who also holds an Italian passport, has been called up by Tite to Brazil’s 26-man squad for the World Cup in Qatar.

His current form has prompted the Catalan press to demand an explanation for his failed 2018 transfer to Barcelona. “The Barça B coaches who in October 2018 analyzed Gabriel Martinelli’s performance and considered that he didn’t have the sporting qualities to sign for Barcelona owe Barcelona an explanation,” writes daily Sport, which points out that Martinelli is the big surprise in Brazil’s World Cup squad, where he would have taken the place of Robert Firmino (Liverpool), who was left out.

Martinelli’s non-transfer to Barça began in the 2018-19 season, when Barcelona’s then head of scouting for South America, André Cury, brought the promising striker from Ituano, then 17, to Ciutat Esportiva de Sant Joan Despi for a period of adaptation.

Martinelli trained for two weeks with the Blaugrana’s reserve team. Apparently, no one lifted a finger to sign him, so he returned to his home country to join Ituano’s U-20 team, with whom he would play in the 2019 Sao Paulo Juniors Cup. It seems all the more inexplicable that Barcelona missed him as the transfer would have cost the Catalan team nothing at the time. Martinelli would have come on loan, at no cost, with a non-binding purchase option.

In the summer of 2019, Arsenal did not hesitate to sign him. In his first season in England, in all competitions, he played 26 games in which he scored 10 goals and provided 3 assists.

Now, he has the opportunity to play his first World Cup with the “Canarinha”, where he will share the attack with one of his Arsenal teammates, Gabriel Jesus. Mikel Arteta’s team is the sensation of the season, leading the Premier League five points behind Pep Guardiola’s super team.

Not everyone agrees with his selection, however. And, funnily enough, not because he left Firmino out. Former Brazilian midfielder-turned-TV analyst Neto called the Arsenal striker’s call-up a “calamity” and said Tite’s “shame” in overlooking Flamengo star Gabigol in favour of Martinelli was proof that he should not be a coach at the World Cup in Qatar.

“It’s a shame. A joke! I’m ashamed of myself. Not because of the Dani Alves story. But what’s the deal with Martinelli? He has 33 goals in his career. It’s a disgrace, a disrespect for football. It shows that Tite doesn’t deserve the position he’s in. Calling up Martinelli and not calling up Gabigol is the biggest disgrace in the history of call-ups. Nobody in Brazil knows who this Martinelli is. He also scored five goals, he walks around shopping malls in Europe. What has he done in European football? Arsenal doesn’t even play in the Champions League. He’s a calamity! In Brazil nobody knows who he is,” Neto thundered on Os Donos da Bola.

Whether or not Tite was wrong to trust Martinelli remains to be seen. It is clear, however, that the story of the young striker of the “gunners” is one that leaves no one indifferent.

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