Arsenal new boy Gervinho has been branded 'the new Henry' by some and a potential replacement for Samir Nasri by others. If you listen to the man who brought him to France, he's a bit of both, though he could even be the next Messi, while the Ivorian's dad says he was a better player than his son. So, who is the man Arsène Wenger has reportedly paid more than 10m pounds for?
1) The skills - not the man - are Brazilian
Despite the nickname, Gervais Yao Kouassi hails from the suburbs of Abidjan, not Rio de Janeiro. Though his play often has a Brazilian tinge to it, the origins of his stage name are more prosaic – Joël Gustavo Carlos, who worked with the young Gervinho, gave him the moniker simply to distinguish him from another Gervais. Humourless Lille coach Rudi Garcia always referred to him as 'Gervais' in interviews, never by his nickname.
2) Wenger was onto him early
"He wanted to leave Ivory Coast, but couldn't go to Beveren because he wasn't yet 18. So he went to a second division Ivorian side to then go to Belgium," explained L'Equipe's African football specialist Hervé Penot, who has charted Gervinho's progress since his emergence at the Académie Mimosifcom of Abidjan-based club ASEC Mimosas. The brainchild of former French international Jean-Marc Guillou, the academy has nurtured a wealth of Ivorian talent, including the Touré brothers and Salomon Kalou, and eased some of them into European football at Beveren, a club associated with both Gervinho's ex-club Le Mans and Arsenal. "At Beveren, Wenger already had an eye on him as he and Jean-Marc Guillou are very close. They have the same philosophy about the game – he's been following him since then. Wenger didn't just discover him yesterday."
3) He's not 'the new Henry', nor 'the next Nasri', but he could match Messi
"He's not the same style as Henry at all," Penot told The Sabotage Times. "He's got the same pace, but he's better technically, though he doesn't have Henry's power and strength. Henry was a beast.
Gervinho uses pace to beat his man – like Henry did – so people are going to draw parallels, but he's not the same kind of player. He's going to score goals like Henry, and – like Henry – he's not a good header of the ball. So there are valid comparisons that can be made! Nasri is more a playmaker. Gervinho is more explosive, but I think he's arrived at Arsenal a better player than Nasridid."
"If he continues to improve, he could become one of the very best players in the world, like Messi," Daniel Jeandupeux, the man responsible for bringing Gervinho to Ligue 1 at Le Mans, told Sabotage Times. "He has the ability to progress – he's not the finished article."
"I've played in England, and some of the teams aren't playing football. If he'd gone to a team like that, he'd be dead"
4) Arsène's Arsenal provide the ideal context for Gervinho
"I've played in England, and some of the teams aren't playing football. If he'd gone to a team like that, he'd be dead," ex-Newcastle United defender David Rozehnal told The Sabotage Times. "But at Arsenal, with the teammates he has, he can prove what he can do." The Czech international should know having been a teammate of Gervinho's as he scored a career-high 15 goals and notched ten assists to help Lille to the French double last season. "He's fast with the ball at his feet, he's direct. He can beat you easily in one-on-ones or even when he's double-marked. He's very quick," added Rozehnal. "He has to stay fit and I think he'll be a good player there."
"He's improved progressively from Beveren to Le Mans and then Lille," said Penot. "That's why you get the impression that he still hasn't reached the peak of his powers."
5) He's not a natural-born goalscorer
"The first time I saw him, Gervinho had five big chances and perhaps scored one. He wasn't fantastic in front of goal," said Jeandupeux, who helped harden the young forward's clinical streak to boost his output from two goals in his maiden Ligue 1 season to 15 three campaigns later. "He had problems controlling his emotions when finishing. If you provide a good final ball, there's no reason that you can't be a goalscorer even if there's more stress in front of the goalkeeper. For a final ball, you have to keep a cool head, stay focussed. Gervinho quickly showed us that he could do that, and he's starting to acquire that quality in front of goal. If he continues to improve as he has done, he really will be a phenomenal player."
6) London's ’bright lights' won't distract him
"I'm not afraid for him, because Gervais has never been one to chase after the girls," claimed his mother, Henriette Kouadio, suggesting the only roasting her 24-year-old son will be doing will be of opposing defenders. "Anyway, I give him advice on the matter, and he'd better not disappoint me. He should concentrate on his work."
"He still keeps in touch with the people who've helped him in the past – he called me after he won the Ligue 1 title, and other people in the club," Jeandupeux said. "He hasn't forgotten where he's come from, which can help him keep his feet on the ground. If things go really, really well for him, you never know how he'll handle it. But I think he can have a great career, especially if he focuses on his football."
"That's one of the reasons he wanted to leave. He didn't feel appreciated."
7) Generous and not egocentric, he can help plug those inevitable injury-enforced gaps in attack
After signing, Gervinho claimed: "The most important thing for me is that I give a lot to the team I'm playing in." The habitual throwaway post-signature cliché? Not necessarily. "He had ten assists last season, it doesn't worry him to let a teammate shine," said Penot, before backing up Wenger's assertion that Gervinho "is a player who can play in all the positions in attack."
8) Don't expect him to be Tony Adams, though
"I think he's chosen the right club, but he needs for Arsenal not to implode and have bad results," said Penot of Gervinho, who will have the language barrier to shield him from the English media, and his close friend, Chelsea's Kalou, to show him round the British capital. "He's not a strong personality, he's not going to change things in the dressing room. He's quite timid, and he's going to be really shy at the start."
9) Timid perhaps, but certainly not without pride
"There's something that really hurt him – the fact that he wasn't nominated among the four best players in Ligue 1 last season," said Penot, whose eyebrows were also raised by the omission of the Ivorian at the expense of teammates Hazard and Moussa Sow, as well as then-Lorient forward Kevin Gameiro and PSG's mercurial Brazilian Nene. "He was really surprised, and that's one of the reasons he wanted to leave. He didn't feel appreciated."
10) Arsenal should have signed his dad a couple of decades back – and better have an eye on his brother
"I was much better than him in my time," Gervinho's father, Yao Kouadio Emmanuel, told the Ivorian media. "When I see him dribble and score goals, I say to myself, 'There's someone who wants to play like me.' He wants - at all costs - to emulate me, but he won't be able to." While trying to live up to his father's achievements, Gervinho may soon find he has competition from his kid brother, whose first steps in football have matched his elder sibling's at a Guillou academy. "They say that he'll be better than Gervais," claimed 'Dad.' "But, honestly, I haven't seen him play yet." Wenger probably has, though.
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