Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola insisted that Gabriel Jesus is very much part of his plans after he starred in the 5-0 win over Norwich.
The Brazil international has been linked with a move away from the Etihad Stadium this summer in order for City to raise funds to try and sign Tottenham striker Harry Kane.
But, playing in a wider position, he showed his worth against the Canaries, making three of the goals as City got their season up and running in style.
It was his fizzed cross that goalkeeper Tim Krul ended up diverting into his own net in the seventh minute, then he also laid on Jack Grealish’s first goal since his £100million move as City were 2-0 up inside 22 minutes.
After Aymeric Laporte swept home a loose ball from a corner, Jesus then teed up Raheem Sterling with another cross from the right before Riyad Mahrez completed the rout in the final 10 minutes.
For all the talk around City’s pursuit of Kane, which has so far faced frustration as Spurs refuse to negotiate, Jesus has been something of a forgotten man.
But Guardiola was full of praise for him and confirmed he will keep his place for the match against Arsenal next week.
“If I should answer all the rumours in the media, we need five press conferences,” Guardiola said. “The moment I tell you I don’t like Gabriel, then we can talk about it.
“He has so much importance for me. It’s not just when he makes an exceptional performance like today, it’s every day. He deserves to continue playing, when a guy plays in this way he deserves to play again.
“He is a player who likes to play more wide than central positions. One of the reasons why I am a manager in the best moments of my career, apart from the titles and trophies, is because you can work with people, humans like Gabriel.
“He never complains. He never disrespects his team-mates. If he plays five minutes, he plays the best five minutes he can do. Play right he is happy, play central he is happy, play left he is happy.
“The combination with Kyle (Walker) was exceptional. I am very pleased with the performance he has made, an incredibly important player for us, he is so young. Big congrats because he deserves in life the best because he is so generous. I am incredibly satisfied.”
After so many of their players were involved in international action over the summer, City endured a stuttering start to the season, with 1-0 defeats in the Community Shield against Leicester and the Premier League opener at Spurs last week.
But they were up and running in style at the Etihad and Guardiola hopes there is more to come.
“Absolutely. The result was the consequence of how many good things we have done,” he said.
“Still we are not in our top, still we have many things to do. It was really good, happy for that and our first three points and hopefully it will not be the last.”
After opening games against Liverpool and now City, Norwich may consider their season to start in earnest against Leicester next week having endured a chastening return to the top tier.
The afternoon will have provided flashbacks to their last away game in the Premier League as – already relegated – they ended the 2019-20 season with another 5-0 thumping at the Etihad.
Boss Daniel Farke was unhappy with how four of City’s goals were almost identical.
“It was well deserved win for them, it was clear before it would be an unbelievably difficult task for us today,” he said.
“It was a big ask for us to compete, but we are disappointed with the result and the way we conceded the goals because four times it was more or less the same goal.
“Right winger in behind the left-back. We have spoken the whole week about this topic and we would have wished we would have fulfilled our defensive behaviour with a bit of individual quality, to concede the same goal four times is difficult.
“I am disappointed with the goals. If you are 2-0 down after 20 minutes it is difficult to be brave and we knew it was going to be a tough day.
“We have faced the best two teams in the division so we stick together, there is no punishment.”