FootballPremier League

The best of the ‘reaper-keepers’: How Ederson revolutionised goalkeeping in the Premier League

October 21, 2019

I'VE been thinking about Ederson Santana de Moraes a lot lately and that is never a waste of a good few minutes.

The 26-year-old Brazilian is arguably the most fascinating, innovative, and downright thrilling footballer to grace the English game for a generation. He compels. He enlightens. He is a ridiculously talented tightrope walker in a role more suitably compared to a safety net.

What lies at the heart of his fearless brand of goalkeeping, a non-conformity that has been so pivotal to consecutive title triumphs that everybody else has now conformed to it? I’m slowly arriving at the conclusion that the apparent nihilism of playing one-twos inside the penalty area deceives us to its origins, as too does an appearance that would see him shortlisted for the baddie should they ever remake Highlander.

What I firmly believe underpins this ground-breaking, game-changing ethos is a shyness that has inhibited Ederson since he was a child and if my theory is correct that makes this already captivating player ten times more so.

Because it is a brash, brave and crazy thing to do to rip up a rule-book that has been sacrosanct for eons and by rights Ederson should have the arrogance of Manuel Neuer or the eccentricity of Bruce Grobbelaar. Instead there is only stillness, inscrutable to an extent.

“Pretty cold-blooded”. That was how retired compatriot Claudio Taffarel described him once and absolutely you need ice running through the veins to do what he does. You also need to be pretty damn brilliant in enclosed areas with the ball at your feet while just as vital is having an unshakable faith in the process of playing out from the back.

But it’s there on his face, every time he cushions a pass so close to his goal-line and lures an attacker in, then strokes it nonchalantly to a team-mate in a modicum of space. The crowd from having palpitations burst into applause and make that funny cheer that also ironically accompanies someone spilling a pint in a pub and now he looks almost bashful, nonplussed; slightly pained at the attention.

He is a South American doing a very South American thing only with the traditionally British trait of not wanting to make a fuss and it is this that ultimately successfully marries the risk and reward. It is show business without the show.

I have been thinking too lately that nobody seems to use the term ‘sweeper-keeper’ anymore. So used to it have we become with Neuer nearly perfecting the function at Bayern, and Hugo Lloris and Thibuat Courtois bringing it to the Premier League. It’s now in the same vein as the electric toaster where the first word is redundant.

Yet Ederson is infinitely more than a keeper we formerly regarded as the adventurous type who merely protected the space behind his back-four. He is an architect. A breaker of the high-press. Hell, he is even an assist-maker. Yet despite him fundamentally changing the landscape of football as we know it we have still to put a label on his style of play.

(Incidentally, to fully illustrate to what degree Ederson has transformed his position consider this: a Manchester United goalkeeper has been forced to completely revise his game to copy that of a City stopper, despite the former being totally rubbish at the model to the point of it being counter-productive)

This is odd because normally we can’t wait to put a label on anything new; normally it occurs within a matter of weeks so could it be that the method in the madness is so out there and revolutionary we are still – two years on – struggling to make sense of it all? And if this is so could I in the meantime humbly suggest we call Ederson and his one hundred plus imitators ‘reaper-keepers’ for the heart attacks they prompt? It’s just a thought.

It takes a lot to rile Ederson, laid back and shy as he is. Jose Mourinho managed it during a post-derby fracas and reportedly got a carton of milk thrown at him for his trouble while any opposition player foolish enough to square up to one of Eddy’s mates is sure to be sprinted at and manhandled. But on Saturday at Crystal Palace we saw him lose his cool – in itself a rare sight – at one of those very same team-mates when some needless faffing around in midfield led to a Wilfried Zaha chance that demanded a smart save.

His reaction was revealing as he swore – in English – before gesticulating that it would have been far wiser for the player to clear his lines and if that is a direct violation of his goalkeeping remit it should also be noted that the Brazilian international has minimised his intricate passing from the back of late with centre-backs dropping like flies. This exemplifies the purpose behind the model. It is not done for its own sake. It’s not sacrosanct.

These past few weeks have also shown the shot-stopping Ederson come to the fore through necessity. At Goodison Park a superb instinctive hand kept out a close-range effort from Yerry Mina. At Selhurst Park a flinging worldie deprived Christian Benteke from ending an astonishing drought.

That he is one of the best shot-stoppers around should hardly constitute news however. After all, last season he kept 20 clean sheets, conceding a goal every 148.6 minutes while this term he boasts four more shutouts than his arch-rival Alisson. Such figures are not achieved from one-dimensional attributes, no matter how innovative and impressive those attributes are. He is the complete package: it’s just that one aspect of that package has not been seen before and has changed our thinking completely.

I could rattle on, I really, really could. Because I love him truly, this shy, unique man doing extroverted much-copied things. But in short, I believe him to be without question the best goalkeeper in the world and the best arguably to grace the English game for a generation.  I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately.