How many times have we all watched Gabriel Martinelli’s goal against Chelsea?
I’ve replayed it at least a dozen times and I know some supporters have watched it even more than that.
We were down a man and down a goal when our young Britalian* picked up the ball just outside our penalty area, ran the length of the pitch and calmly slotted it past Chelsea’s stupidly named ‘keeper, Kepa. Along the way Martinelli threw a voodoo hex on Kante forcing him to slip at the crucial moment when he might have intercepted the youngster’s run.
It was a stunning goal combining speed, strength, control and a degree of composure seldom seen in players at the tender age of 18. But those of us who have been watching his outings for Arsenal this season will not have been completely surprised.
He has looked like a class act every time he’s stepped on the pitch and is already our second top scorer after Aubameyang despite having only five starts and eight substitute appearances.
This is normally the point at which fans, media pundits and ex-players go around saying how it’s important not to get carried away, that we mustn’t start over-hyping the young man, that plenty of young would-be stars shine brightly for a while before fizzling out.
Well to hell with that.
I LOVE this guy and I am more excited about him than any young Arsenal player since Cesc Fabregas.
Even before that stunner at Stamford Bridge I found myself thinking unthinkable comparisons with Ronaldo and Gareth Bale: players who could change a game all on their own.
Like Ronaldo, Martinelli seems comfortable on either foot and knows how to use his head. Like Bale he can tear down the wing and deliver superb crosses as well as getting in the box at the right time to score himself.
At 5ft 9in he is shorter than both Ronaldo (6ft 2in) and Bale (6ft 1in), but he has a great leap and will only get stronger as his body matures in the next couple of years.
We have had young players make a splash early in their Arsenal careers and never live up to our hopes and expectations (David Bentley anyone?). Beyond Arsenal there are many examples of “the next Pele” whose career ends up as a let-down (like Martinelli, Robinho came out of Brazil with a ton of hype but despite spells at Real Madrid and Manchester City the magic never quite took flight).
But there seems to be something different about Martinelli.
There may be a clue to what that “ingredient X” is in the interview that Arseblog conducted with a Brazilian football journalist in his Arsecast podcast on Friday. The journo said that even though Martinelli was playing his football at a fourth tier Brazilian side, he stood out from an early age because of his dedication and seriousness of purpose.
He does not drink alcohol or even fizzy soft drinks apart from water. He started learning English while still in Brazil and had already set his heart on the Premier League. Since arriving at Arsenal he is the first into training and is utterly single-minded about improving his skills.
It’s the sort of dedication that reminds me of Dennis Bergkamp. When he joined the jolly band of alcoholic, chain-smoking, drug-toting cavaliers at Highbury in the 1990s they were stunned to see this world class star staying behind every day for extra practice. Along with Arsene Wenger’s arrival, it’s not an exaggeration to say that Dennis’s example helped completely change the culture at the club.
Martinelli needs to get plenty more game time for the rest of this season. In my eyes he is already ahead of Pepe, Nelson and Saka in the pecking order and arguably should even be selected ahead of the non-scoring Lacazette.
That said, we also need to manage him properly and not burn him out or place expectations on him that he can’t possibly deliver. Right now though he looks capable of shouldering any responsibility we place on him.
It also behoves the club to lock him up contractually for as long as possible, because if he continues this rate of progress he will become one of the most sought-after young players in the world.
Am I getting “over my skis” here? Am I buying into the hype and ignoring the usual hurdles that get in the way of a promising youngster becoming a star (injuries, ‘second season syndrome,’ fame going to their head and so on)?
What do you think?
And if he does develop as we hope, which players’ styles (past or present) do you think he’s most likely to echo?
*Apparently Martinelli has not yet decided whether he wants to play his international football for Brazil (where he was born and raised) or for Italy (his father has Italian heritage as the surname indicates).