Before we begin, I would just like to tell you a small story. On the 26th of June, 2016, despite just beginning my (very tiring) summer job, I set an alarm for the small hours of the next morning. I hoped to see my heroes; Sergio, Pablo and Nico, finally win the long awaited international trophy for the Albiceleste. They faced Chile, the team who had beaten them in the previous final, and a team they’d beaten in the group stages. Chile won 4-2 on penalties. Messi retired from international football for about a month. You may ask why I am boring you with this inane story. The point I am making, is the man of the match that game. Claudio Bravo, a man who we all know and some of us tolerate, had inspired Chile to a second success over Argentina, with a wonder save from a dipping Sergio header being the key highlight. And what a save it was.
Fast-forward to the present day. City, it would seem, are looking for a new, new goalkeeper. Repeated links are made most prominently with another Benfica player; Ederson Santana de Moraes, or simply: Ederson. Born in the Brazilian state of Sao Paulo on the 17th of August, 1993, Ederson stands at over 6 feet tall and already has one Portuguese title to his name. Despite his relatively late entrance to ‘the scene’, as he signed for Benfica a few months prior to his 22nd birthday, and wouldn’t play until the first choice keeper Julio Cesar was injured in March 2016, Ederson has since sealed his position at the head of Benfica’s team, where he had a release clause of €30m before signing a new deal last week. Despite this, we’re still being linked with the Brazilian. A good string of performances has led him to be linked with City, amongst other big clubs. In fact, it was less than three months after his break into the first team to him being linked with Pep Guardiola’s City. Ultimately, he elected for Claudio Bravo.
At the age of 15, Ederson joined his local club, Sao Paulo. He’d stay here for a year before signing for current club Benfica. Yet, despite spending two years in the youth squad, Ederson clearly failed to make an impression as he was shipped out to lower league side G.D. Ribieirão for the 2011/12 season. Ederson made 29 league appearances, cumulating in 2,575 league minutes. His stay in the lower echelons of Portuguese football wouldn’t last however as the summer after signing for G.D. Ribieirão he was picked up by Primeira Liga side Rio Ave.
This is where Ederson would stay for the time being. After failing to make too much of an impression in his first season, Ederson broke into the first team by the end of 2013/2014. He’d make 28 total appearances for Rio Ave in 13/14, including starring in a run to the final of the Taça de Portugal, though he and Rio would eventually lose 1-0 to Benfica in the final. Ederson would play 1,595 minutes of Primeira Liga football in 2013/14. He’d keep this up for the 2014/15 season, again managing the total of 28, with a smaller cup run and an unsuccessful attempt to qualify for Europe. This was the season Ederson would begin to make stronger waves: Benfica were tracking him again by April 2015. In the summer Benfica got their man in a deal worth half a million euros, with the curious anecdote that he would replace his cousin, Artur Moraes, as Benfica’s reserve goalkeeper.
After first team goalkeeper, the Inter Milan icon and QPR wage-taker Julio Cesar, had torn a muscle in March 2016, Ederson would step into the spotlight. He’d end 15/16 with 10 league appearances and a handful in the latter stages of the Champions League against Pep’s Bayern, and must have felt that a chance that lay before him to stamp his name on the team-sheet had come. His first game was the ultimate bath of fire: away to title rivals Sporting Lisbon. Benfica won 1-0, and Ederson did not look back from there. Benfica would win the last 9 games of the season, Ederson conceding only 5 goals in 10 games, winning the league by just 2 points. It was after this run City were first linked with the young Brazilian, as on the 19th of May 2016, A Bola reported that Pep Guardiola was eyeing up Ederson after being impressed with his league form, and his performances against his own Bayern side in the quarter-finals of the Champions League. A move didn’t materialise, and Ederson looked to kick off in 16/17 where he’d departed in 15/16.
However, it was not to be. After filling in for Cesar on the final stretch of 15/16, Ederson suffered an injury over the summer of 2016 and missed the start of the season, only playing his first league game in September against Chaves. Since that game Ederson has played every league game, conceding 6 in 12, however 3 of those came in one game. So, if we wanted to be cute, 3 goals conceded in 11 games. He also played in 5 Champions League group games, helping Benfica to second in a group with Napoli, Beşiktaş and Dynamo Kyiv. Benfica will play Borussia Dortmund in the next round. His high level performances, in tandem with Bravo not living up to expectations, has led to a surge in Ederson to City links. Even if we admit Bravo could still work out (a far stretch for many), he will turn 34 in April and a long-term goalkeeper is needed.
So, Ederson has impressed in the early stages of his career in Portugal and is beginning to make a name for himself on the European stage. Here are some numbers for you, based on league averages.
Ederson has ascertained an average rating of 7.03 at WhoScored, compared to Bravo’s… 6.39. No further words need to be said here.
Ederson makes 2.42 saves per game, compared to Bravo’s 1.44, David De Gea’s 1.81 and Thibaut Courtois’ 1.52.
Ederson’s average distribution length is 31m, compared to Bravo’s 25m. However, compared to De Gea (36m), Courtois (45m) and Mignolet (42m), Ederson shows much more awareness for going short. Though his distribution length on average is less than Bravo’s, it may be argued the great many passes Bravo makes to his centre backs weighs his stat down, and the fact Ederson’s stat is similar would give Pep hope Ederson could adept to the passing game for which Bravo was bought.
As often happens in football, one style has given way for a new one. Perhaps it is too early to say this, but a new age of keeper is surely dawning. Though the ‘sweeper keeper’ may have been brought to popularity by René Higuita and his scorpion kicks, it is Manuel Neuer who is particularly associated with the term. The sweeper-keepers’ role, amongst everything a normal keeper does, is to help play transition from defensive situation to offensive or at least possession based situations. He can do this by punching rather than catching, playing small but rapid passes with his defenders to help spread the play, and most famously, coming off the goal line. Once shackled between the posts, many goalkeepers now rapidly advance from their ageing gallows and join the peloton of play. This of course can lead to major embarrassments, à la Neuer v Inter Milan in 2010. However, it is wise to accept that more often than not, the on-rushing goalkeeper works. This is just the sort of keeper Ederson is. There is a particular moment for me which stands out about him, when Benfica played Bayern in the UCL last season. The on-rushing Douglas Costa, almost through on one-on-one, suddenly had Ederson diving at his feet, dispossessing him with his hands, and before Ribery could pick up the ball and slot it home, Ederson was cuddling it into his chest. This is the importance of a quick, sweeper keeper. Especially with teams who play high lines, a tactic Pep prides himself on.
One final comment, which may be a little confusing: Ederson reminds me of Shay Given. Though Sao Paulo and County Donegal are more than a little different, both keepers have the knack of saving with any part of their body, be it arms, legs, chest or face.
Well, as I have tried to demonstrate, style-wise Ederson is perfect for Pep’s City. He is young and malleable for anything Pep may require further from him. If we, tearfully, accept there is no way back for Joe Hart, City’s goalkeeping standard is fairly bad. Considering that, Bravo is 34 in a few months and Caballero is 35 already. Ederson is 23-years-old and therefore in his infant years in terms of goalkeepers. Buffon turns 39 in a few weeks yet is still one of the best goalkeepers in the world. I don’t believe the situation is as dire as full-back, as City did make the attempt of Bravo, a gamble which the majority believe has failed. So, we have established the need for a goalkeeper. Many will say we need an old-style goalkeeper back, however I’d point to the success of David De Gea, a great sweeper keeper in his own right. Even if he gets beaten at his near post every time someone shoots there, and David Silva once put a ball through his legs after De Gea had tried to make himself as big as possible, he has amassed a great reputation.
To finish, Ederson himself is quoted in A Bola to ‘prefer City’ over other interest from teams like Bayern Munich.
My rating: 8.5 out of 10. The problem with Ederson, for many, would be the fact he comes from the Portuguese League. As mentioned in the previous piece on Álex Grimaldo, City have not had the best of luck with imports from Portugal. Despite this, the antipathy towards Claudio Bravo may lead to some *amnesia* over the Portuguese import issue. I won’t be too harsh on Bravo, mostly because I’m one of the annoying people who will support them for as long as they at least try. But, the general consensus of City fans is that he isn’t good enough. I want him to succeed but can anyone actually see him doing so? In any case, he’s almost 34 and City need a long-term plan if they wish to succeed, if not for a first team goalkeeper then at least an understudy to Bravo. I believe Ederson’s succinct ability in the role of sweeper keeper and his youth, coupled with the fact he was valued at £19m by Pep last summer, means he’d be an excellent signing. His new deal may make things trickier, however.
If you take one piece of advice today, let it be this: Do not search ‘Bravo’ in your Twitter search bar. It is not good. Memes and badly constructed jokes everywhere.