Gabriel Martinelli's courage and character key to Arsenal success as talented teen shines for Arteta
LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 21: Gabriel Martinelli of Arsenal during the Premier League match between Chelsea FC and Arsenal FC at Stamford Bridge on January 21, 2020 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Visionhaus)

The stats came thick and fast on Arsenal's teenage attacker, Gabriel Martinelli this week. 

The 18-year-old made the world sit up and take notice of his rare talent when scoring a superb individual goal for the Gunners during his side's dramatic 2-2 at Chelsea on Tuesday evening at Stamford Bridge.

Mikel Arteta's Arsenal were up against it in west London after former Blues defender David Luiz was sent off for tangling with Tammy Abraham, which saw Jorginho score the resulting penalty to put Frank Lampard's side 1-0 ahead.

But that was without reckoning on the precocious Martinelli, who raced practically the length of the pitch - 67 yards to be precise, in only 8.4 seconds with the ball at his feet - to score.

In doing so Martinelli became the club's first teenager to score 10 goals in a single season since Nicolas Anelka in 1998/99.

No wonder Arteta hailed the youngster's 'courage' afterwards, which came in a team display that showed exceptional fortitude. 

It was a salient conclusion to make by the canny Gunners boss, showing emotional intelligence to concentrate on courage, rather than Martinelli's undoubted technical ability, during his packed post-match press conference also attended by VAVEL.

Talent and technical ability 

There are two aspects to consider when judging a Premier League footballer.

One of which is relatively easy to determine, the other far harder.

The first is his talent and technical ability.

Does he have skill, football intelligence, athleticism, physicality and a method that will hold him in good stead in all manner of circumstances, against differing types of opposition, tactics and formations?

Does he, in short, have the tools to be able to cope playing against some of the world's best players, in the world's toughest league?

Most good judges, upon watching a player, can get a sense of whether he or she has the armoury to be able to flourish in trying circumstances.

Talent spotting Martinelli

Arsenal are fortunate to have such excellent talent spotters that were instrumental in bringing Martinelli to north London.

The key figures in brokering a deal to bring Martinelli to N5 last summer, Edu Gaspar and Francis Cagigao certainly thought he was a player of rare calibre when scouting him in the Sao Paolo lower leagues.

After an impressive showing in Brazil's Campeonato Paulista - the top level state league for Sao Paulo - Martinelli was signed for £6m from Ituano in July 2019.

His excellent performances for Arsenal in a tempestuous season means he is already vying to be Ituano’s most famous academy graduate with Juninho, the Middlesbrough idol who also appeared for Atletico Madrid - with the popular 47-year-old now the club’s president.

Edu and Cagigao assess Martinelli

Edu and Cagigao certainly saw what they liked during their countless trips to South America to study Martinelli as a prospect, to assess his potential, and to ascertain whether they were buying him for the future, or, far more importantly for the present. 

According to several Arsenal sources within the club I spoke to last summer around the time of Martinelli's transfer, the latter course of action was what they were hoping for.

Martinelli had previously trained with Barcelona during a trial period at the club and had previously been linked with Manchester United before the Gunners snapped him up.

The wily Cagigao - who knows Arsenal inside out, having been a youth team player in the 1980s, including being part of the side that landed the 1988 FA Youth Cup - had Martinelli on his radar for some time. 

Cagigao had previously worked as Arsenal's chief scout in Spain and had an impressive track record having signed Cesc Fabregas, Santi Cazorla and Hector Bellerin. He also tried to sign Lionel Messi as a 15-year-old.

Cagigao has strong contacts in Brazil and kept tabs on Martinelli, compiling detailed dossiers on the Ituano star while also jetting out to south America to watch him in the flesh.

He and his team had also been busy at the club's training HQ at London Colney, studying the teenager through in-depth video analysis.

So, when it came for the talented teen to put pen to paper on a four year deal last summer, Arsenal knew what they were getting by landing the lad with a growing reputation in Brazil.

Ituano's star rises  

Not for nothing had Martinelli already been awarded the Campeonato Paulista's Best Newcomer, Countryside Player of the Year and featured in the region's Team of the Year.

In March 2018 he made history as Ituano's youngest-ever debutant when he came on as  a substitute in a 2-1 win over Sao Bento at the tender age of just 16.

Martineli first started playing with Corinthians' futsal team at the age of just nine before joining Serie D team Ituano in 2015 - putting pen to paper on his first professional deal only 24 months later - with his first senior goal coming against Taboao da Serra, in September 2018.

However, despite signing to much fanfare - more to do with the club's first transfer deal of an exhausting summer rather than genuine excitement at landing a talented if raw attacker - according to my sources Martinelli was effectively on trial during the club's pre-season tour of America in July.

For an 18-year-old it seemed like he was in a win-win situation.

If he failed to impress then boss Unai Emery on the training pitches of the States among the big boys of the first team squad, the youngster would simply slide over to Steve Bould's academy sides.

Where he continue his progress among the U23s in Premier League 2 and the U21s in the Leasing.com trophy against battle-hardened lower league professionals, with the possibility of a loan spell with a basement club, or higher, this year or the next. 

There would be no shame in being temporarily shipped out to learn the game. Such notables at Emile Smith Rowe (Huddersfield), Konstantinos Mavropanos (FC Nurnberg) and Tyreece John-Jules (Lincoln) went on loan this month.

It happens all the time.

Further back in time Jack Wilshere performed for Bolton, during a stint in the north west, while Ashley Cole had a spell at Crystal Palace.

Martinelli shows desire 

But Martinelli simply refused to accept the benign fate that could await him away from the rarefied air of the first team squad.

He hadn't uprooted his life to travel all the way from Brazil to England simply to play at Boreham Wood.

He wanted more. 

Which brings us to the second aspect of judging a footballer, and one that is far harder to glean - yet is a far more important indicator of whether a player will be a long-term success: Character.

Does a talented teenager have the wherewithal to cope with the slings and arrows professional football can throw at them? 

Can they cope with the vicissitudes and vagaries, fluctuations and uncertainties around the beautiful game, which, as those in and around it can attest all too well, know it to be a dirty business.

Can they deal with the myriad of hangers-on, leeches and neer'do wells that attempt to feed off a Premier League footballer, all desperate for a piece of stardust, or, let's be honest, cold cash, from their target - none of which has the players best interests remotely at heart?

Can the player avoid the bright lights and pitfalls that come from being in the spotlight?

Do they have the self-discipline to eschew the promise of late nights and star-struck admirers, all the while giving their best on the training pitches in a bid to build their career, not, primarily, their bank balances?

"What's his vice?"

When confronted by scouts offering their input on possible new signings, the former Manchester United colossus, Sir Alex Ferguson, while forensically noting the detailed dossiers and acknowledging the intuitive opinions formed from his trusted cohorts, would also ask: 'What's his vice?'

Meaning did the player in their sights have a predilection for four things: alcohol, gambling, sex or drugs. 

And if the lad didn't, then would his character indicate whether he could fall into a fondness for any of the dangerous addictions on his list or, without naming names, in a few rare instances, all four. 

Satisfied the player had 'character', then and only then did he sanction a signing.

Martinelli, for his part has shown nothing but utter professionalism and dedication.

One can only imagine the sense of isolation he felt moving from one continent to another.

If he was an 18-year-old exchange student the chasm would be big enough. But to emerge as a true talent at the top end of the most watched league on the planet beggars belief at times.

Has he been plagued by self-doubt at times, the way mere mortals experience it?

The sense of frustration and gloom that surround you when things don't go your way.

The long dream hours spent away from the glare of cameras on the training pitches, honing your talent, melding your technique - for the way you deal with adversity, with the challenges life throws at you, not only shapes your character, but offers a rare insight into your psyche.

Are you strong enough to resist temptation? 

Are you resilient? Brave, trustworthy, reliable? Or as Arteta phrased it so well in in the Stamford Bridge press room moments after the pleasing 2-2 draw, do you have 'courage'?

The answer is that Martinelli has courage - and character - in abundance. 

While you would expect such attributes to be inbuilt, having watched and reported on an awful lot of academy football over the year, you'd be surprised just how many talented youngsters fall by the wayside.

Injuries take their toll of course, but, again, so many talented footballers fail to make the grade simply because they failed to apply themselves in their fledgling career, only to end up confused and embittered when they are invariably cast aside by clubs, unwilling and uninterested in offering them contracts because of their lack of application and professionalism, courage and character.

For Martinelli to get so far already is an achievement in itself.

If he was playing well for the U23s that would be a feat worth celebrating in light of the teenage upheaval he has experienced over the last six months.

But for him to perform so well - no, to excel - in the white heat of the top level of the English game, as an 18-year-old, having uprooted from his country, with the majority of his friends and famliy many thousands of miles away, to come to a different culture, climate, language, to embark on a new job, with unfamiliar colleagues, in a lifestyle alien to the one in which you were raised, is as rare as it is impressive.

So, remember the off field pressures Martinelli has ignored the next time you watch the way he drove through the heart of the Chelsea defence at a raucous Stamford Bridge on Tuesday evening - and understand the sacrifices, the commitment, the dedication and the respect he has shown his profession, when studying the way he drew Blues keeper Kept before calmly slotting home.

And when you see Martinelli's joyous celebrations in front of the loyal and vociferous Arsenal travelling support - who were a credit to the cause at Chelsea - don't just celebrate the goal, as wondrous as it was, celebrate the fact Martinelli is performing as well as he is doing at the moment.

For, given the odds and the challenges he has already faced, his form, his talent, his technique and, yes, his character, are already exceptional.

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