When I was a kid, English goalkeepers were cut from the same cloth as the old-fashioned English bobby on the street.
Upstanding, tall, a bit ploddish, but generally helpful when called upon. German ’keepers were similar, but not quite so twinkly-eyed. Beyond that, we couldn’t be doing with all that continental flapping and faffing.
Most foreign ’keepers pawed and patted at the ball because they weren’t bloody man enough to come and take it. They made us laugh. Through old tapes of Cloughie we knew that Poland had apparently sent an actual clown to play against England at Wembley in 1973. And through watching World Cups we knew that if a South American mother wanted her son to be a goalkeeper she first christened him El Loco.
Brazilian goalies were especially useless. We were told that all Brazilian football was played on the beach or in the slums and being a goalkeeper was a special stigma reserved for the kid with thick national health glasses and hands that were as useful for catching the ball as two big leaves of lettuce might have been.
Fast forward to Joe Hart. Remember him? The last of the Brit Bobby on the Beat goalkeepers. The national humiliations come in sequence now. Slouching out of Europe. Our national keeper replaced at Manchester City by a Brazilian. A Brazilian kid. A Brazilian kid with a neck tattoo. Sick.
He’s good. Pep Guardiola spent a lot of money this summer but he wrapped up the signing of a new goalkeeper early and although Ederson was uncapped, the price tag has been matched by the performance. He’s very good.
The first really significant game of the season was Chelsea against City on Saturday. Ederson who is still only 24, an age at which most goalies are still being potty-trained, was sublime for City.
In injury time he took a free kick from a few yards outside the City box and pinged it onto Sterling’s chest some 40 yards down the field. It was a grace note, but in England, we aren’t yet used to seeing a goalkeeper who can distribute like a top class midfielder. To be honest we’re not really used to midfielders who can distribute like top-class midfielders.
From the midweek win over Shakhtar Donetsk, the standout moment for many of us was seeing Ederson kicking a clearance from his hands. The good old-fashioned punt as far up the field as possible is alien to the kid anyway but on this occasion, he threaded a pass through a thicket of bodies and found Aguero out on the right wing deep in the opposition half.
And it’s not just the feet. There was a long throw out to the feet of Sane which led to City’s penalty that night. He repeated that trick on Saturday with an amazingly creative quick throw out to Sterling. His distribution isn’t just world class it’s world class in a category that we are only getting used to. When Joe Hart went into exile at Torino and his replacement, Bravo, showed himself to be not up to the one job he was employed to do, we chuckled at how the Premier League found out these poncey golden boy managers like Pep. He’d learn! Hang in there Joe old son. One of our own.
Pep already had his eye though on the kid who had replaced another half decent compatriot, Julio Cesar, between the sticks at Benfica.
Pep saw it before any of us. When you see a goalkeeper who distributes with a near 100% success rate and can do it with confidence and imagination too, you just have a lightbulb moment.
I get it. Ah, why didn’t we think of that before.
Ederson not only has the distribution to compile points for assists in your fantasy football team, he is 6’2’ and a top-class stopper as well. His stats for Benfica last year were 56 saves to 12 goals conceded in 27 games.
Just one mistake was credited to causing an opposition goal. Over in Torino, Joe Hart was being credited with five such howlers. Joe isn’t 24. He’s at his peak.
Questions remained though. Portuguese football - when you exclude the two Lisbon giants and Porto — gives the impression of being a leisurely and harmless pursuit for hot sunny afternoons. Would the kid cope in the Premier League where players rush around like herds of stampeding horses?
There are no problems with bravery and confidence. It’s not long since Ederson was Instagramming pictures of the stitches he suffered in a collision with Liverpool’s Mane but he has just got on with it. At Stamford Bridge on Saturday he was commanding under crosses, confident in his game management and seemed completely unfazed by it all.
Consider that last year City lost both their league games to Chelsea on afternoons when neither Bravo nor Caballero thrived. Saturday was Ederson’s fifth clean sheet on the trot.
We can see it now. Guardiola’s almost instant dismissal of Hart seemed cruel at the time but it had cold logic to it. You could never see Hart having either the confidence or nimble feet to basically be willing to cover much of his own half when City are scrambling back against a counter-attacking team.
Ederson was signed early and for a lot of money and then just about forgotten about as City signed up most of the able-bodied defenders in Europe. He could just be the most critical marginal gain of the transfer period.
The same might happen for Brazil. On Thursday they play Bolivia, with World Cup qualification already wrapped up after an amazing run of results under new coach Tite. The Brazilians have hosted two World Cups. The first in 1950 ended in humiliation when they lost a final to little Uruguay after a goalkeeper error by a poor soul called Moacyr Barbosa, who played one more game for Brazil and died penniless and still being blamed for the national trauma. 2014 as wee remember ended with the 7-1 humiliation to the Germans.
They go to Russia next summer with a lot of healing to be done. Goalkeeper is one position that is up for grabs. So far Tite has favoured Alisson of Roma who is the same age as Ederson and has just made the Roma No 1 shirt his own.
Ederson is in the squad this week and breathing down his rival’s untattooed neck.
Everything Alisson is weak at, deep crosses and kicking especially, Ederson is good at. By next summer in Russia he could be pinging 45 yard passes to Neymar or Jesus himself.
We always knew that Pep would find out the Premier League, didn’t we?