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Alisson, Ederson, and the rising reputation of Brazilian 'keepers
The Brazilian 'keepers will face off when Liverpool take on Man City
Last Updated: 03/10/18 12:11pm
There was a time when Brazilian goalkeepers were not well respected in Europe but the presence of Alisson and Ederson in the Premier League underlines how things have changed. Adam Bate explores the rise of the Brazilian goalkeeper.
When Liverpool take on Manchester City, the eyes of the world will be on Anfield. This is the global game so it is only appropriate that Brazilians will have a pivotal role to play in what could prove to be a decisive six points in the Premier League title race. There is Roberto Firmino and Gabriel Jesus, of course, but a key battle will be between Alisson and Ederson.
The best two teams in England both have Brazilians in goal. They are regarded as two of the very best as well. That is a big change because it has taken a long time for the Brazilian goalkeeper to be accepted, particularly in England. "In Europe, people think Brazil can't produce good goalkeepers," World Cup winner Taffarel once said. "That is false."
The stigma surrounding the Brazilian goalkeeper is ingrained in the psyche with the cliché stretching back to the great team of 1970. Felix received criticism despite keeping a clean sheet against then champions England. "What an incredible man to have behind you if you're a defender in this brilliant Brazilian side," said commentator Hugh Johns at the time.
It was not a compliment.
But this view of the Brazilian goalkeeper was never entirely fair. Gilmar was revered for his role in the country's 1958 and 1962 World Cup wins, while even Felix tipped over Gigi Riva's shot in the 1970 final. Some of his work might generously be described as ahead of its time - ambitious throws, rushing off his line, and punching the ball away rather than catching it.
The Brazilian goalkeeper always had an eye for innovation. Former Arsenal and Scotland goalkeeper Bob Wilson recalled being amazed that the Brazil team of 1966 had a specialist goalkeeper coach. In the 1992 Copa Libertadores final, Zetti became Sao Paulo's hero by taking advantage of notes detailing which way the Newell's Old Boys players would dive in the shootout. They had been practising penalties for two weeks.
Brazil always took goalkeeping seriously, just maybe not quite as seriously as certain other positions in the land of Pele and Zico. "Until recently, everybody in Brazil only had eyes for the number 10," said Taffarel. That was reflected in the thinking of the scouts in Europe too.
One theory put forward by Paulo Guilherme, the author of Goleiros, is that Brazilian teams were so dominant when they played against foreign sides that the opposition goalkeeper would be so busy that they would be the ones who caught the eye. As a result, it was the goalkeepers from Argentina, Uruguay and Colombia who got the big moves instead.
More likely is that the scouts arrived with preconceived ideas. There had never been a Brazilian goalkeeper in Europe so they were not looking for one. For many years, if there was to be a Brazilian player wearing gloves in England, it would still be more likely to be an outfield player such as Juninho freezing in the Teesside cold than an actual goalkeeper.
That has changed now. In part, it is just a numbers game. This is a passionate football country with a population of 200 million people. But certain individuals have helped to transform the reputation. Taffarel was a pioneer. Dida won the Champions League with AC Milan. Julio Cesar did so with city neighbours Inter. England remained the last bastion.
The first Brazilian goalkeeper to play in the Premier League was Heurelho Gomes. "I was one of the first to come to Europe along with Dida," he tells Sky Sports. "Taffarel was the only one before us, but Dida was the one that I used to look up to because of the way he used to play. He was so calm and so quick on the line. He was a top goalkeeper."
Gomes himself arrived in England with a big reputation having won the treble with Cruzeiro before picking up four titles with PSV. Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp later recalled being told of Gomes' quality everywhere he went, but it didn't stop the keeper enduring a nightmare start to his Spurs career. After three seasons, he was eventually replaced.
In some respects, Gomes reinforced the stereotype of the Brazilian goalkeeper. Like Felix, he was a striker in his teenage years. His idol was Romario. He only became a keeper at 19 after going in goal during beach football matches because nobody else wanted to play there.
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At 37, Gomes has gone on to become hugely popular figure at Watford, their player of the year in 2016 and a man with almost 200 Premier League appearances to his name. Speaking to Gomez now, he acknowledges that even his initial move to PSV proved challenging.
"When I went there people were questioning it, you know," he admits. "Especially in Holland because they were used to having big-name Dutch goalkeepers over there. So it was a shock to them to see a Brazilian goalkeeper. It was a difficult thing for them to accept."
It was a shock to them to see a Brazilian goalkeeper. It was a difficult thing for them to accept.
The Premier League was even tougher. "It was a difficult time because it was a different style of play," he explains. "But I believe the game is less hard than before for a goalkeeper nowadays because we are more protected than before. There are not so many crosses as there used to be when I arrived in England. The game is more technical than before."
Gomes was able to come through that period of change and turn his career around. Others were not so fortunate. In the same summer that Gomes arrived, Diego Cavalieri became the first Brazilian goalkeeper to join Liverpool but never made a league appearance for the club.
Cavalieri's agent Ivan Jatoba believes that a number of things have changed in the decade since. The perception of the Brazilian goalkeeper has altered but so has the reality.
"I believe today Brazil has some of the best goalkeepers of the world," Jatoba tells Sky Sports. "It is not just the goalkeepers playing for very big clubs in Europe. We also have goalkeepers playing in Brazilians leagues at a higher level than some of the goalkeepers in Europe. So, for sure, we now have more and more clubs scouting goalkeepers in Brazil.
"The change has come because we have had many technically strong goalkeepers in recent years who have drawn the attention of clubs in Europe. We also have excellent goalkeeper coaches too and this has been fundamental for the technical growth of our athletes. This has opened the eyes of clubs that Brazil is not just about attacking players."
One of the difficulties for Brazilian goalkeepers has been a practical one. Despite boasting a strong reputation at the time, Gomes struggled to get a work permit to play in England. Ederson's Portuguese passport facilitated his transfer to Manchester City.
"I will be very honest, the problem here was never the skills of our goalkeepers," says Jatoba. "The real reason why European clubs do not have so many Brazilian goalkeepers is the passport problem. The clubs have few spots for foreign players and in the past they preferred to take Brazilian players for the other positions, most of them attacking positions.
"That has discouraged clubs from watching goalkeepers from Brazil, but I hope this is in the past because now we have Alison Becker at Liverpool who does not have an EU passport, just caps from the national team. This will open more doors for our goalkeepers."
Sometimes all it needs is a spark. Scouting like so much else is susceptible to trends. So when the world and its recruitment departments sit down to watch Liverpool versus Manchester City on Sunday, the sight of two accomplished Brazilian goalkeepers in action will not go unnoticed. Alisson and Ederson could just be the start of it, thinks Gomes.
"It is amazing to see them," he says. "This is an amazing thing for us to have two Brazilian goalkeepers playing for two of the best teams in the league. I believe what was important for them both is that they had experience in Europe beforehand, but they have both adapted very quickly over here which is very difficult.
"I like Alisson because I believe he handles the pressure quite well, even after the mistake that he made (against Leicester). Of course, that was a lesson for him that in England sometimes you have to make different decisions. But he will do well because he is a top player.
"With Alisson and Ederson we can say that we have two very good goalkeepers and I am so happy to have played my part in opening the door for Brazilian goalkeepers. Now they have started to look at Brazilian goalkeepers with different eyes." It has been a long time coming.