Managers don’t go through a career without making a mistake or two. But a bad call every now and then doesn’t immediately invalidate years or even decades of good work.
Alex Ferguson made dozens if not hundreds of errors at Manchester United; as did Johan Cruyff at Barcelona; as did Alf Ramsey while in charge of England. As did Pep Guardiola at Manchester City when he signed Claudio Bravo to replace Joe Hart.
The mistake, however, was not Pep’s desire to seek an alternative to England’s leaden-footed number one, but rather who he chose to be that person. Guardiola, clearly, didn’t fancy Hart from the moment he set eyes on him – and with good reason.
If you want your goalkeeper to serve as an auxiliary distributor, there’s no point picking someone whose kicks have all the accuracy of a Carabao-tipsy mule trying to boot a swarm of bees into a basket.
Unfortunately for Pep, it transpired that Bravo just wasn’t the right man for the job. The Chilean was targeted by opponents almost immediately and looked vulnerable coming for balls played into the box. His handling seemed worryingly suspect at times, as did his distribution – which was a major problem, given he was brought in as a supposed upgrade on the previous incumbent in that regard.
And so, from the beginning, every Bravo mishap or semi-mishap was duly, and predictably, met with crowing from English football’s Luddite Gallery, a zealous band of change-haters furious at the sidelining of the Three Lions’ loveable blond squadron-leader. ‘You chased out Our Joe for this lad?’, they wondered aloud.
Until recently, many would have seen such criticism as justified. Ultimately, Bravo proved to be little more than a sideways move – not a failure, but very obviously not a significant improvement.
These days, however, Hart is having to make do with cup runouts for West Ham under David Moyes, while City are flying high partly thanks to the added dimension given to them by their new custodian, Ederson Moraes.
The former Benfica stopper is everything that Guardiola hoped Bravo would be, and everything that he knew Hart never could be.
With the ball at his feet, Ederson looks as if he could play outfield for a modest third or fourth-tier side. His passing is crisp, accurate and confident. His first touch is clean and instant, and he has no qualms about leaving the safety of his box, whether to spray it about as part of the build-up or to intercept a ball played in behind his defence.
Against Spurs, who squeezed City as high up the pitch as they could, Ederson almost single-handedly neutralised the press with Tomahawk-like skimmers knocked beyond the first line of Tottenham attackers. It was a quite astounding display from the Brazilian: not merely a supremely skilled performance, but also a brave one.
It takes guts to play lofted thirty-yard passes to feet (while under pressure) directly up the middle of the park, or to take a touch when the safe, cowardly option is to simply pump it into touch.
There’s much talk about manliness and spirit in English football, but there are few things as courageous as laughing in the face of humiliating failure: for a goalkeeper, true bravery is trying to play as an eleventh outfielder.
A mistake while doing so can only lead to opprobrium from fans and the media, but Ederson isn’t afraid of that.
Joe Hart hasn’t got the technique to play like Ederson, nor does he have the stomach to risk trying (most keepers don’t, to be fair). That’s why Pep was never interested in giving the Englishman a chance.
Now, eighteen months down the line, the City manager’s decision to dispense with him has been proven beyond doubt to be the correct one.