Arsenal star Gabriel Martinelli has spoken of his relief at making it big for the Gunners and at his heartbreak at failing to secure a move to Manchester United as a teenager.
The Brazil star moved to the Gunners in a bargain £6m switch from third-tier Brazilian side Ituano in July 2019. A relative unknown at the time, Martinelli has developed into one of the first names on the Arsenal teamsheet under Mikel Arteta.
Scoring five goals already this season, he has been in fine form for the Gunners, who sit five points clear at the top of the table.
His progress certainly comes as no surprise to Jurgen Klopp who back in 2019 labelled Martinelli the ‘talent of the century’.
Such has been his progress, that Martinelli was the perhaps surprise inclusion in the Brazil squad for the World Cup. For a squad bursting with attacking options, he was called up ahead of the likes of Roberto Firmino. The reasons behind that decision has been explained here.
However, it could all have worked out so differently for Martinelli. He was long on Manchester United’s radar as a teenager, travelling to their Carrington training base for a series of trials.
Under EU rules, European clubs can only sign South American stars from the age of 18. And while a move to United was long in the pipeline, the Red Devils stunned Martinelli by rejecting him early at the age of 17.
Martinelli then went on a two-week trial at Barcelona, working alongside Ansu Fati. But they too opted against his signing, leaving Arsenal free to secure his signing for a bargain fee.
Now the player has looked back on his failure to secure a move to join United.
Gabriel Martinelli reveals Man Utd transfer rejection
“There was a project with Manchester United. I did some trials there. It didn’t work out but I went there four or five times,”he told the Players Tribune.
“Manchester United had some scouts in Brazil and then they saw me playing. They had a meeting with my father and then it worked out.
“Then there was this time I met [Paul] Pogba. Ibra [Zlatan Ibrahimovic] was there another time when I was a little older, I think it was the third or fourth trial.
“That was a project for when I turned 18. If they really wanted to, I would move. We saw that.
“But when I turned 17 – that was the last time I went to Manchester – I went back to Brazil and they said they didn’t want me, so that was it. I would come home to practice.
“I think it was very important for me, even though I got a ‘no’. But it was very important to know how football works [in England], how things are. So when I came permanently to Arsenal, I think I was a little more used to it. I knew how things were here and I knew a little about the culture too.
“Since I was 13 I had this project with Manchester United, so in my head I was a bit like, ‘hey, I’m going to Manchester, regardless, when I turn 18’. Then when you reach the age, in the year you are 17, the guy says, ‘hey, we don’t want this anymore’. I said, ‘hey, what am I going to do now?'”
Star thanks God for Arsenal transfer
After training with Barcelona, he then later agreed a move to Arsenal. And after quickly winning the trust of those in charge at Emirates Stadium, the 21-year-old admits he is delighted that his path took him to the north London giants instead.
“My path was at Arsenal and it wasn’t to be elsewhere,” he added. “And I thank God that it didn’t work out [at Man Utd] and I came to Arsenal.
“When I had just arrived, I went to lunch. You arrive and you have players like Auba [Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang], Laca [Alexandre Lacazette], [Mesut] Ozil and [Bernd] Leno. There were big name players only that everyone follows, everyone likes.
“When you arrive from Brazil… Especially I, I’m very shy; I didn’t talk much. With people I already know, I’m more open, I’m more myself. But when you arrive in a place like this, it is more difficult.
“I went to that lunch, I was afraid and I didn’t speak much English. I’m thinking ‘what if someone sits next to me, what will I say’. I was embarrassed.
“So I sat down to eat and then Auba arrived and I thought ‘now what?!’. Then he sat down next to me and started talking to me in Spanish. A good guy, I was very nervous.
“For him it was something normal. But for me, it is a moment that will stay with me forever. ”
He added: “I want to win titles, I want to be champions. I think the club, the fans and the players we have, we deserve to win something.
“And that’s my dream. To win the Premier League, win the Champions League. I think we have to dream but keep our feet on the ground.
“I think everyone here has a winning mentality. Everyone here wants to win.”