The Brazilian left-winger Gabriel Martinelli’s opening goal in the first minute set up the tone for Arsenal’s 3-2 win over Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool. With Martinelli also conjuring up the winning goal for Bukayo Saka for Arsenal in the first half of the match, almost running from the half-line, it would have triggered memories of playing Futsal games growing up in Sao Paulo.
“That is what I played until the age of 11, five against five. In Futsal, you move quickly and dribble in tight areas. It then feels easier when you are on a big pitch, as you have more space to exploit and if you are quick, you can run past defenders. Once I am running, it is pure instinct,” Martinelli had told The Athletic earlier this year.
The Brazilian, whose father Joao worked as tool-maker, initially played in the Futsal team for the Brazilian club Corinthians, which has seen players like Socrates, Nato, Ronaldo, Carlos Tavez. The youngster would ply his trade for Corinthians till the age of 13 before the family shifted to Itu where he joined the club Ituano. Martinelli does remember his father constantly motivating him to be a footballer. “Today, he (his father) is nice to me, but in the past he was hard when I was a kid when I didn’t have a good game. He would say, ‘You have potential and have to improve’ but always nicely,” Martinelli told The Athletic. “I wore the same number 9 shirt as ARonaldo in my games,” Martinelli would say.
While he played for the Brazilian club Ituano from the age of 13, Martinelli would constantly travel to England with his agent to try his luck for the trials with Manchester United at the age of 13, 14, 15 and 16. But his luck would change in 2019 when the then 18-year-old was signed for a fee of eight million dollars by Arsenal by the then Arsenal director Edu.
The youngster would score ten goals and four assists during his debut season with the club including his maiden goal on debut in a 3-1 win against West Ham United and his feat of ten goals making him Arsenal’s first teenager to get past single digits in scoring in one season since a young Nicolas Anelka in 1999. It was also a year in which the Brazilian drew praise from Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp for the first time in his career (as Arsenal played a 5-5 draw against the Reds in Carabao Cup) with Klopp terming Martinelli as the talent of the century’.
“Martinelli is pretty much the same age as Sepp Van De Berg but he’s the talent of the century, he is an incredible striker, so it’s really difficult. He is 18 years old, right? So our scouting department is all over the world, but I think Edu gets all the credit for that signing,” Klopp would say after the match.
A knee injury would mean that Martinelli would only make 23 appearances for the club including 14 games in Premier League in the 2020-2021 season, missing 30 games for the Reds. Last year, Martinelli played 29 games for manager Mikel Arteta’s side scoring six goals and this year he featured in nine games in the Premier League, scoring four goals. Earlier this year, the then 35 number jersey wearing player was given the jersey number 11, a number worn by the likes of Arsenal legends Ray Parlour, Mesut Ozil and Robin van Persie.
The Brazilian though admitted learning English as one of the toughest challenges in England apart from adding on weight close to seven kg to adjust to English club’s demands. “Of course you can’t lose speed, but I don’t think I did and I just gained muscle mass. English football is very different from football in Brazil, more physical, faster, the game is here and there all the time, you have to run more. In the beginning it was very difficult to adapt to this but today, I am already adapted, Martinelli told Globo Esporte earlier this year.
Manager Mikel Arteta too agrees that the Brazilian has improved from the last season and remembers the time when Martinelli would talk about missing games. “When he was not playing, he was all the time in my office and every time showing me on the pitch how wrong I was. He is just a sad boy when he is not playing. He loves what he does and gives you the right reasons to give him more minutes,” Arteta said last season.
Martinelli, who was also part of the Brazil team along with Dani Alves, Paulinho and others which won the gold medal in Tokyo Olympics and scored against Mexico in the semi-final, idolises Thiery Henry and wants to help Arsenal win the Champions League and also play in a World Cup for Brazil.
“I have met Henry before. He is a nice guy. On the pitch, he was unbelievable, a legend for the club and the Premier League. For me, he is the best of all time in the Premier League. But I don’t want to be the new Thierry Henry,” the Brazilian had told Sky Sports. “I want to make myself a name in this club’s history. I will be there. 90 minutes per game in the box, trying to score, trying to help.”