Ederson; Born in Brazil, but Made in Portugal to Succeed in England

Andy Brassell@@andybrassellFeatured ColumnistNovember 8, 2017

Ederson has already impressed Premier League watchers with his presence and his bravery
Ederson has already impressed Premier League watchers with his presence and his braveryDave Thompson/Associated Press

Benfica have surpassed their arch rivals FC Porto in many ways in recent years; at least, until the men from the Dragao began to fight back under new coach Sergio Conceicao this season. The trophies lead the way, with As Aguias' haul of 12 (including four Liga titles) making the northern giants' uncharacteristically bare cupboard in the last four years all the more painful.

Moreover, Benfica have outstripped Porto in player development. It was deja vu at Estadio da Luz this summer as the club raked in another €100 million-plus through player sales. Few complain. It's a fact of life in Portuguese football, not to mention a source of pride as the club's former stars go on to put their names in lights at Europe's elite.

One of this summer's sales is doing that already and is badly missed on Avenida Eusebio da Silva Ferreira. Ederson may be winning over fans at Manchester City perhaps initially sceptical about a 23-year-old's   (now 24) ability to be a reliable first choice for a Premier League and Champions League contender, but few in the red half of Lisbon ever had any doubts.

It was always that way from the moment he made his Liga debut in March 2016, at short notice, in the most trying of circumstances. Julio Cesar—his Brazilian compatriot who would go on to play a part in his inexorable rise—was injured in training on the eve of the derby with league leaders Sporting, in what was set up as the biggest game of the season.

At 22, Ederson hadn't played a single league game for the club since arriving in a €500,000 deal from Rio Ave the previous summer, seeing action in three Taca da Liga matches. He'd only played four times for the B team. Curiously, he'd also made his last appearance for Rio Ave against Sporting, some 10 months before, when Nani struck the only goal of the game past him in the final game of 2014-15.

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Perhaps that was what made him feel so at ease. Ederson was calmness personified, keeping a clean sheet as Benfica won 1-0 to leapfrog Sporting at the summit, a position they never gave up. Journalist Tom Kundert, a writer for ESPN and owner of the English-language Portuguese football site Portugoal.net, told Bleacher Report it was the goalkeeper's ice-cold demeanour that immediately marked him out as a star.

"His incredible composure, even in the biggest games, such as when making his Liga debut in what was effectively the championship decider in the red-hot Lisbon derby at Alvalade, helped establish him quickly," Kundert said. "Nothing fazed him." At Benfica he would be called upon infrequently, given their dominance (even on debut against Sporting, he only faced two shots on target), but he wouldn't have any room for mistakes.

Jan Oblak stood out against Benfica for Rio Ave before joining them - then tipped off his former club about his successor
Jan Oblak stood out against Benfica for Rio Ave before joining them - then tipped off his former club about his successorPATRICIA DE MELO MOREIRA/Getty Images

"His concentration levels were also impressive," Kundert continued. "Playing for them as a goalkeeper, in most games you're only going to need to make one or two saves, and Ederson was always there making them. Time and time again he saved them in tight matches. I sincerely believe Benfica would not have won either of the last two championships without him."

Despite his dramatic entrance to first-team life at the Luz, this was no overnight success. Ederson had arrived in Portugal from Sao Paulo as a 15-year-old to join Benfica's youth ranks. He never signed a professional deal and moved north to join Ribeirao, playing in the third tier, in 2011. A move to Rio Ave followed a year later, and in his final season there he gained some European experience, making a Europa League debut in November 2014 against Steaua Bucharest, before playing away to Dynamo Kiev in the next game.

If you wondered whether the clamour for Ederson to a move up a level had reached fever pitch, though, think again. "To be honest, no," Kundert said. "In contrast to Jan Oblak, for example, who really stood out even at Rio Ave, Ederson showed himself to be an excellent shot-stopper, and he was big and brave. We didn't realise he was something truly special until he broke through at Benfica."

Oblak knew, tipping off Benfica about this young talent. Rio Ave themselves knew what was coming too and held onto 50 percent of the player's equity, as is commonplace in Portugal. As Correio da Manha reported, the Vila do Conde club rejected more than one attempt by Benfica to buy the remaining half of his economic rights, banking on sitting tight for a real windfall.

Ederson celebrates the Liga title with his friend and compatriot, Julio Cesar
Ederson celebrates the Liga title with his friend and compatriot, Julio CesarPedro Rocha/Associated Press

It was at the Luz that the Brazilian connection came into play. Julio Cesar had resurrected his career in the Portuguese capital after threatening to drift into obscurity during an ill-fated spell at Queens Park Rangers. He had status again at Benfica, but when the young Ederson arrived at his side, there was no attempt to jealously guard that position.

The pair became firm friends, as Cesar underlined in an interview earlier this year with Mais Futebol. "He's a goalkeeper with a brilliant future ahead of him," enthused the now 38-year-old. "He's technically very good—very good with his feet, and this made the difference (in terms of) Manchester City buying him. (Pep) Guardiola likes that sort of goalkeeper a lot."

Ederson was always renowned for his power, and it was something Cesar encouraged him to develop. "When Ed played against Bayern Munich in the Champions League, he was putting the ball in the opposition penalty area from his goal kicks. It's incredible the power he has. It's something surreal."

It was also one of Ederson's parting gifts. "In the game against Guimaraes that gave us the title, he created a goal like this," continued Cesar. "A lot of people don't realise there's no offside from goal kicks; the defence was high, (Ederson) saw they were sleeping, and put it over the top (for Raul Jimenez to score)."

That was almost the end (though there was still a Taca final win against the same opposition), and Ederson knew it. He also knew that he was leaving home all over again. "My daughter's Portuguese," he told Record in a July interview, "and I already bought a house here, thinking of the future and then, I want to live in Portugal, not go back to Brazil."

Ederson is likely to enjoy plenty of great moments with Brazil, as well as at club level, but he hasn't forgotten the time that built him into what he is today.

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