In 1924, George Mallory attempted to become the first person to climb Everest, to reach the summit of the planet. When asked why he wanted to attempt such an aberrant task, he notoriously quipped back:
“Because it’s there.”
Mallory wasn’t attempting this mountain for fame or fortune, instead for that daring innate feeling that all humans possess. The act of defiance for all unwritten rules of humanity to achieve something that many see as superhuman and cause a mass rethinking of what is possible. Mallory had no better reason than he might succeed in his borderline suicidal task.
You see, to summit Everest one must overcome a multitude of factors; the constant threat of avalanches, the deadly effects of altitude sickness, hypothermia, and the fact Everest attracts sudden flash storms which can stop an expedition flat in its tracks.
Mallory’s attempt led to his untimely death when he never summited the mountain. However, Mallory left behind him a legacy of thirst to not only climb the mountain but be the first to do so. In his failure, Mallory had changed the mountaineering world, making Everest seem that much less obtainable but fulling the fire for the natural feeling of adventure and pushing the boundaries of the unwritten rules.
Whilst Mallory’s attempt to climb Everest is the most famous example of how the thirst for adventure can drive people forward, it’s not the only one. In fact, football is no different. But what if it succeeds?
The Estádio do Morumbi falls silent – it’s a familiar sight that the crowd have seen before. The man in black stands over the free kick, glances at the goal, then back at the ball. The silence didn’t last long and soon ecstasy had taken over the stadium. On the pitch, Rogerio Ceni was wheeling away towards the corner flag, the ball still spinning as it nestled in the corner of the net. The man they called goleiro artilheiro was causing the fans to jump up and down in unbridled joy – once again. Ceni made a habit of raising the roof, his freekicks dipping into the top corner of the net as the keeper idly stood by, only trying to postpone the inevitable.
However, Ceni wasn’t a midfield maestro or a slick winger, a golden-touched attacker or a libero of old. He was a keeper. A keeper with a twist, with a right foot that developed a tendency to strike the back of the net unlike any keeper in history. In a career that spanned 25 years, 23 of them at São Paulo where he became their most capped player in history, he scored 131 goals. Famously, in 2006, in a league match against Cruzeiro, Ceni stopped a penalty that would have put A Raposa 3-0 up, then proceeded to find the net himself later in the game through a freekick before levelling the game with a penalty.
São Paulo took a chance on a gamble that was unheard of in football, albeit a small one, for with Ceni they had a keeper who was a good as any outfield player on the ball and could strike it better than most. With everything to lose they rolled the dice for one simple reason. What if it succeeds?
From the stands watched a young Ederson Santana de Moraes. Ceni was already one year into his tenure when Ederson was born but that wouldn’t stop the goleiro artilheiro becoming a huge influence on the Brazilian’s career.
Ederson was born in the municipality of Osasco, in Greater São Paulo, an area, like most of Brazil, with a high crime rate. Like many, Ederson found his calling in football and soon joined the local club set-up. Watching Manchester City now, you’d be forgiven for mistaking Ederson as someone who played outfield for the majority of his youth career. However, he didn’t last long at left-back, as whilst he was good on the ball he lacked the off the ball skills necessary to track runners and soon found himself being pushed back into goal.
Ederson had certain innate abilities, such as vision, however his feet weren’t as quick and his passing wasn’t as crisp until he was introduced to the game of futsal. In recent years, futsal has made its way to the shores of Europe with the game taking off, but it’s been a staple of Brazilian football for decades with players such as Pele, Juninho and Robinho getting their start in it.
In my opinion, the most striking example comes in the form of Ronaldinho. The image of the ponytailed Brazilian effortlessly gliding up the Bernabeu feinting and knocking the ball around the original Galacticos with a nonchalance that puts John Stones to shame. It takes a little bit of digging to find an old Joga Bonito video, with Eric Cantona presenting, of a young Ronaldinho – raw but inherently fantastic rounding opposition defenders on the five-a-side court.
Ederson once more found himself thrust into goal – but his team had a cunning tactic. Ederson was already renowned for his shot and on a small court he was easily able to advance to the halfway line as his teammates made runs to clear a shot path allowing a ball to be set on a plate for the keeper who had a shot. Soon, Ederson was challenging for top goalscorer. He played as a goleiro-linha, a fifth-man in the attack for no other reason than what if it succeeds?
The adventurous teen brought the fundamental skills of futsal, sole touches and ball rolls, to his 11-a-side game and soon found himself at the doors of the São Paulo academy. Like Ceni over a decade earlier, he was a unique talent and like Ceni, São Paulo saw another ball-playing-keeper, taking in the young boy to nurture him and encourage him to use his feet.
However, things didn’t turn out how São Paulo had hoped and Ederson was soon on a plane to Portugal where he began his tenure at Benfica via two loan spells. By the 2016/17 campaign, Ederson was ready for his coming out party, as through a series of transfer deals he found himself as Benfica’s number two heading into the season. Fate soon pushed him into the number one spot and Ederson excelled – Benfica began to build a counter-attacking tactic based around his long kicks. Even as a young 18-year-old, Ederson could still pick 80-yard passes with pinpoint accuracy so when he received the ball, the wingers would push high and wide to take advantage of not being offside from a goal-kick.
It was these performances that proved Ederson to be an architectural Guardiola keeper. It was no secret that City had been having goalkeeping problems since Guardiola arrived, the Catalan inherited a squad with Joe Hart as their number one, and only replaced with the enigma of Claudio Bravo. With Hart a firm fan favourite at City, having been signed from Shrewsbury for £400,000 at the dawn of the Mansour era, his departure and following goalkeeping additions had been viewed with looks of disgust. Bravo wasn’t Hart and had a shaky start, to say the least.
Ederson might not have been a househould name when he arrived at the Etihad, but it only took one game for City to realise he was the missing piece in the Guardiola master plan, capable of filling a Hart-shaped hole in their lives.
Ederson’s ability as a so-called ‘sweeper keeper’ has revolutionised the way Manchester City can play. For instance, Guardiola sides are renowned for playing with a high line, something that with Claudio Bravo in net just wasn’t possible. The Chilean was not nearly quick enough to sweep up through balls, as so disastrously proven in the Champions League clash with Barcelona where Bravo misread a ball causing him to head it directly at the opposition before a moment of madness causing him to see red.
Ederson’s quickness off his line allows the City defensive line to push higher than in previous seasons, even higher than previous Guardiola sides, congesting the play and allowing the press to start higher causing more problems for the opposition.
In a defensive sense, Ederson’s impact has been minimal. In the attacking phase though, he has been innovative. The Brazilian has set a new standard of keeping where a goalkeeper should be as assured on the ball as a midfielder. It’s incredible to watch as even in crucial games at important points in the match, City insist on passing out from the back. At first, this tactic was scoured upon by seasoned pundits who seemed to nitpick every part of Ederson’s galvanising wizardry, yet their heads eventually began to turn towards this new breed of expectations for a keeper.
With each time Ederson received the ball under pressure, the mood shifted inside of the Etihad. Gone was the sharp intake of breath and occasional prayer. Instead, it was met with anticipation of the next attack, entrusting Ederson to recycle possession like watching David Silva in between the sticks. It’s these acts that have left City fans baffled, concluding he simply can’t be human, instead a half-lizard or something alien simply masquerading as a footballer.
To use a metaphor for Ederson’s style of play, if asked to drive from point A to point B, many would choose the fastest route. Ederson, on the other hand, would pick the scenic route; a lovely drive through the mountains stopping to take photographs along the way. It doesn’t matter that he’s late, he arrived all the same.
When he wants to be direct, he can. A regular occurrence is to try and isolate one of the front three when one-on-one with a defender, allowing Ederson’s kicking range to excel. In a one-on-one scenario, a long ball over the top is always going to favour the attacker and such scenarios have played out over the season: Aguero vs Huddersfield and Sterling vs Schalke.
Whilst you can argue that Manuel Neuer and Marc-André ter Stegen were the pioneers of the modern sweeper keeper, what Ederson has done at City, and the success they’ve achieved because of it, makes him the new poster boy of the movement. You can see football shifting, too. Over the summer, Liverpool brought in Allison, a keeper who bears extraordinary similarities to Ederson, and most notably Thiago Motta’s infamous 2-7-2 formation.
The premise of Motta’s ‘formation’ is the goalkeeper is used a midfielder – a sight that isn’t as outlandish as it sounds. Motta wasn’t referring to those mad moments where we see Ederson advance into midfield for no other apparent reason than he was bored. Instead, he wants to recycle possession from the keeper as we see more commonly. The idea of the 2-7-2 reads from left to right, rather than back to front, to include the goalkeeper in the attacking phase.
Football is constantly evolving with the emergence of new roles and positions. Ederson has performed his role with such calm, such beauty, he makes the sublime seem effortless. It does make you question how people are going to emulate his style. However, it all points to youth sessions more focused on ball retention across the pitch, getting the keeper involved in more general training in the process and the rise of futsal.
The scariest part about Ederson is he still has his best years ahead of him, where we could yet see more daring plays as seasons go by.
But in the meantime: “He’s Brazilian, he only cost £30 Million, we think he’s f**king brilliant, he’s Ederson.”
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