With Joe Hart set to be sold, Claudio Bravo failing to settle in Manchester and Willy Caballero not a long-term option as number one, Manchester City appear to be in the market for a goalkeeper again. The one name mentioned most often is Benfica goalkeeper Ederson Moraes, a 23-year-old in line for his first Seleção cap after being called up by Brazil coach Tite.
Ederson recently impressed against Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League, but what is he like week to week? To learn more about the exciting young goalkeeper, we caught up with David Pritchett, editor-in-chief of Planet Benfica. Dave watches the shot-stopper every week and we quizzed him on the man who could become City’s next number one if the rumours are true.
I spoke to you before Christmas about Álex Grimaldo, but now it seems that Ederson Moraes is Manchester City’s main target from Benfica. Just how good is your squad right now and how many do you think will be packing their bags this summer?
Benfica’s squad is packed full of potentially world-class players, but the club has the second highest debts in Europe. These stood at an eye-watering €336 million in January, although that was before the sales of Gonçalo Guedes to PSG for €30 million, and Hélder Costa to Wolves for €15 million. Nonetheless, I expect two or three more stars to be sold in the summer. At the moment, Benfica’s most marketable assets are Ederson, right-back Nélson Semedo, left-back Álex Grimaldo, and centre-back Victor Lindelöf. Grimaldo’s injury problems might delay his departure slightly, but it is only a matter of time before he leaves.
Can you tell us a little about Ederson – his style of goalkeeping, his demeanour, his character on the pitch?
The 23-year old is the complete package. He is a brilliant shot-stopper, reads the game well, and is quick to come off his line when necessary. His footwork and distribution are ridiculously good. Like most continental keepers, he prefers to punch rather than catch, but he invariably makes good contact when he does so. What really marks him out for greatness are his mental attributes; he is supremely calm, decisive and self-confident. He made his league debut away from home in the Lisbon derby, as a late replacement for the injured Júlio César. Completely unfazed, he went on to keep a clean sheet, and he has never looked back since. His most recent game was his fiftieth competitive appearance for Benfica, and you can still count his mistakes on one hand. Despite his relative inexperience, he has already faced Sporting, Porto, Zenit, Bayern, Napoli, Beşiktaş, Dynamo Kyiv and Dortmund, so he is no stranger to big games. To describe him as unflappable would be an understatement.
In all honesty, the Portuguese league isn’t as widely viewed as the main European leagues, making Ederson something of a mystery to many. But his recent performance against Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League opened many eyes to his talent. Is this his level or was it some freakishly good performance?
That display was nothing out of the ordinary for Ederson. Obviously Dortmund are a top class outfit, so he had more shots to save than in an average game in the Primeira Liga. But he has demonstrated his ability time and time again during his time at Benfica, so few in Portugal were surprised by the performance.
Playing for a Pep Guardiola side, the goalkeeper is under more pressure than at most clubs. Hoofing it out often isn’t an option even if the goalkeeper is under intense pressure. With that said, if Ederson had a wave of players coming for the ball, would he respond how Pep likes? Could he play through or around them without panicking?
He certainly could. Ederson started life as an outfield player, and it really shows. His first touch, short passing and composure on the ball are all superb. Benfica are a team that like to play out from the back, and the Brazilian is a central part of that. He is the perfect fit for Guardiola’s footballing philosophy. Even more impressive is his long-range passing, which puts most outfield players to shame. He can pick out a teammate from 60 or 70 yards, and this is no fluke, because he does it virtually every game. I have been watching football for over 20 years, and I have never seen that level of accuracy from a goalkeeper. His long-distance throwing is also immaculate, and he has given Benfica a whole new dimension on the counter-attack.
Ederson recently extended his contract until 2023 with a hefty release clause of €60 million. It’s my understanding that this is normal at Benfica and doesn’t mean they won’t sell a player. So what would you say the likelihood is of Ederson heading to the Etihad, and would City need to pay his full release clause?
You are quite correct. Contract renewals at Benfica do not necessarily mean that a player is staying for the long haul, they are merely the best way of maximising a player’s transfer value. Renato Sanches and Nico Gaitán were both sold roughly six months after inking new deals. The more pressing issue with Ederson is that his former club, Rio Ave, are entitled to 50% of any transfer fee. With this in mind, Benfica President Luís Filipe Vieira has stated that he is not for sale, although most fans are taking this with a pinch of salt. I expect the club to ‘buy out’ the sell-on clause for a seven figure sum, just as they did recently with Lindelöf’s former club in Sweden. Once they have done so, Ederson could be available for around €40 million.
Finally, how far do you think Ederson can go? Can he become one of world football’s best goalkeepers?
Playing in England or Spain would bring him to the attention of a much wider audience, but he is already an outstanding player. He just has to maintain his current form for the next few seasons. If he moves to the Premier League, he will need to get used to an increased number of aerial balls into the box, but his all-round game requires very little improvement. Ronaldinho and Dani Alves have both tipped Ederson to become Brazil’s number one, and it is hard to disagree with them. The 23-year old has made a similar impact at Benfica to Jan Oblak, now at Atlético Madrid, who is widely regarded as one of the best goalkeepers in the world. There is no reason why Ederson cannot emulate his success.