When Arsenal fans saw that the club had signed a Brazilian called Gabriel, there may have been a sense of nightmarish deja vu. Thankfully, rather than re-signing extremely erratic centre-back Gabriel Paulista, they have signed Gabriel Martinelli, a teenage forward who also hails from Sao Paolo.
Arsenal don’t have the best record when it comes to recruiting Brazilians in the modern era, with the cult hero cachet of Sylvinho, Edu and Gilberto Silva during Arsene Wenger’s golden years descending to hit-and-miss mediocrity with Julio Baptista and Denilson. They were followed by the entirely forgettable Pedro Bothelo and Wellington Silva. The less said about Andre Santos the better.
With Edu, currently working as co-ordination for the Brazil national team, reportedly set to return to Arsenal as technical director after the Copa America, the Martinelli signing may well be the first indication of a Brazilian renaissance in north London.
Martinelli may not have much recent inspiration to draw on but, at 18, he has plenty of time to carve out his own niche at the Emirates.
Here’s the lowdown on a player who, while relatively unknown this side of the Atlantic, is highly rated back home in Brazil.
Gabriel Martinelli profile
Previous clubs: Corinthians, Ituano
Career to date
Martinelli began his career at Corinthians, starting out as a futsal player and learning his trade on hard courts as well as grass. According to ESPN Brazil, he scored more than 200 goals during his five years in the Corinthians youth set-up across both forms of the game.
When his family moved to the city of Itu in 2015, Martinelli switched to Ituano FC and continued to impress at youth level. He was invited for trials at Barcelona and Manchester United before long, making an appearance for United in a friendly against Lincoln under-18s back in 2017.
As reported by Globo Esporte, Martinelli said of his time training at Barcelona: “It was one of the best experiences I’ve had in football since, besides being one of the biggest clubs in the world, the level of training requirement is very high and has made me grow a lot in football, in quality, tactics and the way I think [about the game]. It always feels good to know that there are people or clubs who like my football, so I always go on the pitch and try to do my best.”
Despite interest from Europe and offers from other clubs in Brazil, Martinelli was not ready to leave his family in Itu and decided to stick with Ituano. He made his professional bow in 2018 aged 16 years and nine months, making him the youngest player to make his debut in the club’s history.
Martinelli has made 34 senior appearances for Ituano since then, scoring 10 goals across the regional Campeonato Paulista and the national Serie D. His performances earned him the accolade of ‘Best Newcomer’ in the Campeonato Paulista and an invitation to a Brazil training camp ahead of the Copa America.
While he didn’t make the final squad, he described his inclusion as “a dream come true”.
What will Martinelli bring to Arsenal?
Signed for a reported fee of £6m, Martinelli fits the profile of a low-cost, low-risk transfer for Arsenal during a summer in which they are working on a tight budget thanks to their failure to qualify for the Champions League. Whether or not he will play much first-team football next season is another matter, given his age and limited experience.
While Martinelli will almost certainly start out with one of the development teams, Unai Emery may look to integrate him into his League Cup and Europa League matchday squads. Martinelli may need room to breathe and time to acclimatise, both to a considerably higher standard of football and to life in England.
Martinelli is not shy about his talents, telling the Arsenal website: “I model my game on Cristiano Ronaldo. He is a player who works hard, pushing himself to the next level, always in the run for titles and individual trophies.
“I look up to Cristiano Ronaldo, [Lionel] Messi and Neymar as they are players who can decide games and are very professional, who dedicate themselves to the whole game.”
Strong, pacey and an impressive dribbler – something he may have learned in his futsal days – Martinelli arrives with a reputation as a versatile attacker even if, like all 18-year-olds, he has a lot to learn. As such, he may not make an immediate impact at Arsenal but, given the other clubs who have shown an interest in him, there is little doubt that he has raw talent to burn.