Quiet and unassuming, Arsenal’s latest young gun to catch attention this season is a man of few words who lets his play on the pitch do most of his talking, and in that respect he has a lot to say. From ‘Gabinho’ to ‘Nelli’, we peel back some of the layers to get to know Gabriel Martinelli.

An Olympic Gold Medallist with a hunger for so much more, Gabriel Martinelli is a young man of truly humble origins who has risen to the top but is not ready to stop there. At just 20 years old he represents both the future of Arsenal and Brazil’s attack, a member of the new generation at both club and national teams. But it’s not a burden that’s weighing him down. This is a man who just wants to play football, and why not, he’s doing it so well. 

From trials at Manchester United and Barcelona and what it was like to meet and play against his idol, Cristiano Ronaldo, to finding a home at Arsenal and what his ambitions with the club are, we enjoyed getting to know a little more about the man behind the player that has emerged at the Emirates, winning over Gooners in the process. 

Let’s go back to where it all started… What was it like learning to play and growing up with football in Brazil? What was the setting like – can you paint a picture for us?

To play in Brazil is amazing. You look at the players that have come through, not just now, but in the past. It’s a country that has brought so much excitement and talent to the game. For me, I didn’t play that much on the streets, like you hear of some players, because for me there was a Futsal academy right next to my house. My Dad used to take me there to play football. It was an amazing time for me with my dad. I love him and loved the time we spent together. He was my hero and to get to spend those early times with him, playing football, it was so special. Good memories.

When people from outside of Brazil think of the country they often think of bright colour, flair, vibrancy… what do you think of when you think of Brazil?

Brazil is an amazing country with amazing people. Everyone is kind and they love to help each other. It’s the people that really make the country special for me to be honest. In terms of the country though, it’s a beautiful place, it’s my place. I love Brazil, it’s a lovely place to live. The weather here certainly helps me remember that!

We don’t really have Futsal in the same way over here, but you grew up playing it. How important do you think it was for your overall development?

It was really important for my growth in football. For my control, it’s a different ball, a different floor, it’s completely the opposite of grass. For me it was so important and it has helped me so much with my control and things like that. Even today on the grass I still control the ball in the same way that I used to on the Futsal court. Sometimes you can see it in other players as well. You might see how someone controls the ball and think ‘he’s played Futsal as well’. It stays with you as well, all those memories.

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Who were your idols as a kid and what was it about them that inspired you?

One hundred percent Ronaldo. Even today I still love the way that he plays; his mindset, everything about him. He’s a winner. Mentality is the most important thing about you, and to succeed you have to have a good mentality. It’s a dream come true to now be playing against the likes of Ronaldo. Everyone that loves football wants to play with or against these types of players, like Ronaldo, Lacazette, Odegaard. It’s a pleasure to play with and against them.

When I saw Ronaldo in the game against United I couldn’t really believe he was there. It was amazing for me. I remember we were in the tunnel and I saw him and I was like, “wow, this is Ronaldo.” I’m a bit shy, so I didn’t say anything, just shook hands with him. But to play against my idol shows that I’ve got there. It’s a dream come true.

Can you tell us a bit about the trials you had at Manchester United and Barcelona?

At Manchester United I had four trials, I think when I was 13, 14, 15 and 16. I went there and I stayed for 15 days. And yeah, I trained with them, with the players that were the same age as me. It was a very good experience for me to learn how English football is. It helped me a lot.

The trials felt good – you are playing football! There was a lot to do, but it helped me to learn the football over here following on from Brazil.

Following those trials was there ever an instance where you thought football might not happen for you?

I never thought that. Of course things didn’t work out there and they didn’t want to sign me, but this is life. It didn’t work there but it worked at Arsenal and I’m happy to be here. I never give up. I try to learn from everything.

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When I saw Ronaldo in the game against United I couldn’t really believe he was there. It was amazing for me. To play against my idol shows that I’ve got there – it’s a dream come true."

So what kind of kid were you growing up, did you have any other interests and was your room covered in football posters?

It was all about football for me, I didn’t really have many other interests. But I didn’t have posters and stuff because we just had one bedroom and I was with my parents so…

That in itself paints an amazing picture to show how far you’ve come. Do you ever look back at that and feel particularly proud of yourself?

Yeah of course. Everything I’ve achieved I’ve done for me and for them as well. Becoming a professional footballer was my dream, but it was their dream as well, and they’re all proud of me. My Dad and my mum did everything that they could for me to get here. They lived for me. Everything that they’ve done so far they’ve done for me and for my life, and I’m so grateful to have them.

One thing that’s very special about Brazilian culture is Carnival. Do you feel like you want to celebrate those occasions when you’re over here as well?

Yeah of course! I’m here with my friends, some English and some Portuguese, but yeah, we all celebrate it here.  It’s always a time full of energy and in Brazil there is so much going on.

What was it like moving from Brazil to England? A huge culture shock…

It was a big step. My city in Brazil was a small city and I played in a very small club. To come to a big city over here – twice now – it was a big step for me. But it was made easier because I’m never alone; I have some good friends and my parents, they’re always with me.

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What was it like to get that call to say Arsenal were interested?

It was an amazing feeling. I can’t describe how it was. When my agent said “Arsenal want you”, you cannot say no. A club like Arsenal wanting you? How could you say no? I remember when it happened. I was playing in a tournament in Brazil and I said to my agent that I just wanted to focus on this tournament, because I knew how important it was. I said “let’s not talk about it. When the offers come, don’t talk, keep it to yourself and then at the end of the tournament we can talk.” But at one point we had to make the decision. We had to decide. We had this club and that club and then we had Arsenal. At that point I remember, I said “Let’s go to London!”

At moment in time did you think about how your life would change?

Yes, at that point I knew exactly how my life was, and I can now look at how my life is now. Before I didn’t have a lot of money, of course. My family, we always had food and things like that, but today it’s different. We can go to the shopping centre and buy whatever I want. I can go somewhere and buy something for my mum, something for my dad.  It’s just things I didn’t have when I was in Brazil. It’s a very privileged position to be in and I know how lucky I am. I’m so grateful for this moment in my life.

What about home comforts, did you bring anything with you from Brazil to remind you of home?

I bring food! And of course my family. That’s about all I need. The food is always a nice reminder of the place I love at home. My family is so important to me.

What about that gold medal, where does that live?

It lives here, in London. It means a lot for me. It was obviously the second time we won the Olympic Games and so it’s special for me and special for my country. I remember when they put the medal around my neck I didn’t think it would be as heavy as it was. But as I said, it was such a special moment for me. I need to take the medal back to Brazil. I haven’t been back since the Olympics – we won the Games and then came straight here.

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I’ve always wanted to be an Arsenal legend, from the moment I joined the club. I want to win titles with this amazing club."

That move from a lower league to the Premier League and Arsenal… was that difficult?

Yeah it was hard. As I said it’s a big step. But equally the trials that I’d had at United helped prepare me a lot, helped me understand the game here, so when I came it was a bit easier to adapt.

What about London? Very different to what you must be used to?

To be fair, I love London. You can find everything that you want here. It’s one of the biggest cities in the world, and I love to live here. I haven’t ventured out too much yet… like I haven’t been on the tube yet. Maybe I need to go out with my family.

The fans have taken to you. How does it feel to have won such a passionate bunch over?

The fans are amazing. They’re always behind me and the team as well, cheering us on. And I always try to give it back, you know, always try to make them happy. I do everything I can on the pitch for them.

In your head, do you ever dream about becoming an Arsenal legend?

Of course, I’ve always wanted to be an Arsenal legend, from the moment I joined the club. I want to win titles with this amazing club. Sometimes I can’t believe I’m living this life. My life is a dream, because in Brazil everyone wants to be a footballer – not just Brazil, probably the whole world! And here I am, living the dream.

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You had your trial at United, but now you’ve played at Old Trafford for Arsenal. Does it feel like things have almost gone full circle?

It feels special, but that’s life. It happened because there was a reason. Now I am here and I can tell you that it was a good thing. Of course at that time I was sad because they didn’t want me, but a few years later I understood why it happened.

On the international scene, how does it feel playing for Brazil?

I get a rush every time I pull on that kit. It means a lot for me to play for my country and I always try to be my best when I wear that shirt. With a world cup right around the corner – one of the best tournaments in the world – I want to go and play. So I’m trying to give my best at Arsenal to have a chance.

You’re part of what feels like a new generation coming through for Brazil. Does it feel like that for you?

We have a lot of good players and different players. We have so many good players, I think everyone just needs to do their job and try to give their best on the pitch and everything’s going to be fine.

You’re very focussed, but do you like the idea of entertaining on the pitch?

No, my objective is to win the match and help the team, this is the aim. I don’t deviate from that. I play my way but it’s all about winning the game.

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My life is a dream, because in Brazil everyone wants to be a footballer – not just Brazil, probably the whole world! And here I am, living the dream."

Where do you get that drive to get stronger and better on a personal level?

My parents. They give me this energy and this mentality to push on. They are my biggest mentors. I’ve had other people in my life that have helped me a lot, for sure. Emi [Martinez] he helped me a lot when I first came here. I didn’t speak English, and he helped me a lot. At the club, every time I wanted something he would help me. He was so special.

Your English is great, was it hard to learn?

It’s hard, but you need to try if you are here. If you go to Spain you need to speak Spanish, go to France you need to speak French…

Finally then, what have you got your mind set on over the next few years, how do you want to be known and what do you want to achieve?

I want to win titles with Arsenal and make the fans happy. I want to go to the World Cup with Brazil at the end of the year… get into the Champions League. I want medals and silverware – I’m here to win.

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Gabriel Martinelli wears the adidas X Speedflow +, which you can pick up at prodirectsoccer.com