The Manchester City striker on staying calm in front of goal, toning down trickery and the need for speed
Some of Brazil’s finest players honed their skills out on the streets – were you the same?
Yes, street football helped me a lot when I was younger. I learnt technical skills in really tight spaces, but I also learnt how to fight and battle, which were equally important. My experiences playing street football meant I was no longer afraid of facing a tackle on the pitch. Sometimes it was a bit dangerous, but it was worth it as I learnt to fight for what I wanted, and always with honesty. Whenever I’m playing now, I can still feel the benefits of street football.
Who were your favourite Samba stars when you were growing up?
The players I watched the most as a kid were Ronaldo and Ronaldinho (below). I obviously know Romario as well from watching lots of videos of him, and I still do that now and again. It’s just a shame for me that I wasn’t able to watch him play when he was at his peak, although I know how talented he was. Brazil have produced so many incredible attacking players over the years, but those three are the ones I admire. Those three players were so relaxed in the final third. How do you develop that calmness in pressure situations? It’s hard to explain that. I guess atsome point you kind of develop this quality of being calm. When I graduated from the Palmeiras youth team to the first team, I got so nervous in these situations. I’ve managed to improve that, but I’m still young. Sometimes I can stay calm and on other occasions I can’t – it’s normal. I’ll get better at this area of my game as I grow older and gain more experience; you continue to learn throughout your career. I don’t think it’s a quality that all Brazilian players possess, though. There are many Brazilians players who aren’t relaxed in the final third!
In Brazil you would beat players with tricks and flicks – have you changed since moving to England?
From the moment I started playing as a forward, I stopped dribbling as much as I did on the flanks. I am much more direct these days and simply try to get in the penalty box and score. Whenever I played out wide, I always liked to cut inside and do loads of stepovers. I still enjoy doing lots of tricks, but now I’m focused on scoring goals because that’s what wins matches. You’ve adapted to English football so quickly since joining Manchester City in 2017. Do you believe it’s easier to adjust now due to the high number of South Americans there? I wouldn’t say that. I feel it’s more to do with my style of play, as I like to battle, fight and give everything for every ball. These are the things that helped me the most when I joined City from Palmeiras. I already had these characteristics when I was in Brazil so they were useful when I started playing in England, , where there is more contact compared to other European countries.
Pace is key to the way you play – can you be a top attacker in the modern game without a quick pair of heels?
Good question. To o be honest, there are many attacking players who aren’t that quick and they’re still able to score goals. It’s also true that football has changed a lot and the game now demands more from you. In the past, there were many players who weren’t quick, but they were technically so good and clinical that they found the back of the net anyway. Nowadays, I’d say it’s more difficult for these strikers to reach the top, because the defenders are also fast. I think you need speed to be a successful forward at the highest level of the game.
Do today’s frontmen also need to be able to play in several positions, and which is your favourite?
Definitely. I think this is very important, because formations are more flexible in modern football. It means you can end up playing in various areas of the final third, regardless of your position at the start of a match. It’s a great advantage for me to play in at least three different positions – that can only be good for my development. I used to like playing out wide, but I’ve been playing as a striker with Brazil and City for over a year now and I’m really enjoying it – I see myself as a striker at the moment.
Should a forward go for placement or power when shooting at goal?
It’s relative, because it depends on how you like shooting in different situations. In my case, I prefer to go for accuracy rather than more power. I If you have the ability to score with accurate shots, you don’t necessarily need to blast the ball at the target every time. The harder you kick it, the harder it is to be accurate an and find the corners of the goal goal. You are hoping that the speed of the ball will be enough to beat the keeper. Of course, there are a few occasions when you’ve got to put some power on your shot to score. To do that you strike the ball using your laces laces, although I personally prefer to use the inside part of my feet whenever I get a chance to pull the trigger.
“When I played out wide, I’d cut inside and do lots of stepovers. I still enjoy doing tricks, but now I’m focused on scoring goals”