Guardiola justified as Man City's Ederson reinvents goalkeeping
It was in Nashville, last July, when Pep Guardiola excitingly revealed that Manchester City's capture of Benfica goalkeeper Ederson had ended a two-year wait to work with the Brazilian.
Ederson had endured a bumpy start to his City career following his £37.4 million transfer, with the 24-year-old making a high-profile mistake in his first game, the International Champions Cup clash against Manchester United in Houston, when he raced out of his penalty area and missed the ball in a challenge with Romelu Lukaku prior to the Belgian scoring his first goal for Jose Mourinho's team.
Having been criticised and ridiculed in equal measure for parachuting the ill-equipped Claudio Bravo into the City team 12 months earlier, to replace England keeper Joe Hart, Ederson's error in Houston suggested that Guardiola had erred again in his recruitment of a goalkeeper.
But with City still on course for an unprecedented quadruple as they prepare to resume their Champions League campaign with a round of 16 first-leg tie against FC Basel in Switzerland on Tuesday, nobody is questioning Guardiola's judgement of goalkeepers now.
Not only has Ederson solved City's problem between the posts, he has arguably rewritten the goalkeeping rulebook by transforming how the role is now perceived.
When Peter Schmeichel arrived at Manchester United in 1991, the Dane had a similar impact on the goalkeeping discipline, with his unique style, both in terms of making saves and using his long throw to launch rapid counter-attacks, becoming the norm.
Managers and coaches set out to find keepers capable of performing like Schmeichel, yet none could match his presence and persona.
Ederson is now showing the ability to be as influential as Schmeichel -- he would go a long way to doing that if he helps City win all four trophies this season -- and part of that is rooted in Guardiola's excitement at having signed him last May.
While speaking in Nashville, ahead of City's ICC encounter with Tottenham, Guardiola revealed that he had monitored Ederson's progress ever since his Bayern Munich team came up against the youngster while playing for Benfica during the 2015-16 Champions League quarterfinal.
Guardiola was so taken aback by Ederson's distribution, particularly his kicking, that he and his Bayern coaches spent an hour attempting to devise a plan to nullify his ability to transform defence into attack with one powerful left-foot punt.
Bayern's superior quality ultimately told, but it was a close-run thing, with Benfica only losing out 3-2 on aggregate.
Ederson's kicking was a big factor in their ability to hurt Bayern and Guardiola noted the potentially game-changing advantage of having a goalkeeper with the same ability.
Bravo did not work out as planned, the Chile international too extravagant and careless with the ball at his feet last season, but the principle was the same -- Guardiola wanted a keeper to sweep up at the back and initiate attacking moves and that need became even greater at the end his first season as a manager in the Premier League, when he realised that a more direct and targeted approach was needed by his team.
Ederson ticks both boxes emphatically, with official Premier League statistics showing that he has made 32 sweeper-clearances so far this season -- more than any other keeper in the league, which is an achievement considering City's dominance at the other end of the pitch.
For the record, that is four more than second-placed Hugo Lloris and 12 more than Petr Cech in third position in that particular table.
David De Gea, who tops the clean sheet ladder with 15 (four more than Ederson), has only made five sweeper-clearances -- a number which highlights one key difference between Manchester's two first-choice keepers.
Ederson also out-scores De Gea with throw-outs, with 124 to 97, again underlining the distribution qualities demanded by Guardiola.
And with the ball at his feet, Ederson also does the job demanded by his manager, with an average of 25.7 passes per game and 104 accurate long balls this season.
Keeping the ball out of the net is, ultimately, the primary quality required by every goalkeeper and Ederson has conceded just 20 goals in 27 Premier League appearances.
Yet when the individual awards are voted for in the coming weeks, it will be the likes of City teammates Kevin De Bruyne, Raheem Sterling, Sergio Aguero and Leroy Sane who will dominate the polling. Ederson has earned his admirers, but it is the goal scorers and creators who are most likely to earn recognition.
But to win the major honours, all teams need something that marks them out from the rest and Ederson gives City the X-factor required to win big.
There is not another goalkeeper like him in Europe and his talents could be the crucial difference that City need to beat the rest in the Champions League.
It is little wonder that Guardiola was so enthused by the signing of Ederson last summer. The City manager knew back then that he had secured the services of a player who could take his team to the very top.
Mark Ogden is a senior football writer for ESPN FC. Follow him @MarkOgden_