Ederson, Fabio and Grohe: Brazilian keepers set to take centre stage at Club World Cup

Glovemen at Manchester City, Fluminense and Al Ittihad will be providing last line of defence for respective clubs in Saudi Arabia

Brazilian goalkeeper Ederson won the treble with Manchester City last season. EPA
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Here’s a confident prediction for the Club World Cup, under way in Saudi Arabia and awaiting the arrival of its heavyweights for next week’s later rounds: A Brazilian goalkeeper will be centre stage at the trophy lift come December 22 in Jeddah.

A bolder forecast would be that Brazilian keepers pick up gold, silver and bronze medals by the end of the tournament. Given that half the six teams left in the Club World Cup have an excellent custodian from Brazil entrusted with the first-team gloves, the chances of one of them triumphing are already even.

Given that Ederson, Fabio and Marcelo Grohe are last lines of defence for, respectively, the European and Premier League champions, Manchester City; for the Copa Libertadores holders, Fluminense; and for the host city’s representative club and reigning Saudi Pro League champions, Al Ittihad, the probability of a podium of Brazilian glovemen looks reasonably high.

Between them these compatriots, one in his 40s, the youngest recently turned 30, could tell a vivid history of how extensively the demands of modern goalkeeping have altered and how their country has hugely enhanced its reputation for developing top-class keepers.

At an evergreen 43, Fluminense’s Fabio has been playing elite football for long enough to remember when players in his position were considered the least desirable export in the vast industry that is Brazilian talent-for-hire.

Scouts from Europe tended, at the turn of the millennium, to seek an abundance of attacking players from Brazil but overlooked their goalkeepers. When the Selecao, the national team, won the 2002 World Cup with a majority of their squad based at clubs in Europe, all three keepers were home-based.

But times were changing, as were fashions, and with the rise of the goalkeeping all-rounder, required to be as nimble with his feet as his hands, to play pinpoint long passes with a moving ball and advance well out of his penalty area to support a high defensive line, keepers schooled in Brazil have become more and more conspicuous at the highest levels of club football.

The Selecao’s squad for the 2022 World Cup included, in Ederson and Liverpool’s Alisson Becker, keepers who have appeared in four of the last five Uefa Champions League finals.

Fabio is entitled to call himself the great sage and patron of that generation. To get an idea of the span of his elite career, consider that, as he chases a maiden Club World Cup, he can look back more than 26 years to his first Fifa trophy.

Fabio was Brazil’s goalkeeper when they won the Under 17 World Cup in Egypt in 1997. His teammates in that side included Ronaldinho. Three years later, Fabio was joining Vasco da Gama, just after they had competed in the inaugural Club World Cup.

He is approaching 1,300 senior club appearances, the biggest share of them spread across 16 years with Cruzeiro, the club he left, age 41, to join Fluminense, and, in defiance of the advancing years, there to enjoy his greatest club success.

Last month, Fabio made his 100th appearance in the Copa Libertadores in the competition’s final, the victory over Boca Juniors.

“A goalkeeping genius,” the Fluminense manager Fernando Diniz calls him. “To perform as he does, at his age, is very tough. He makes the hard things look easy. He’s a leader for us.”

Diniz has been sharing his club role with a caretaker position managing the national team for most of the year, and, like many, wonders how Fabio never quite won a senior cap for his country in his 20s or 30s. He was called up to Brazil squads a number of times between 2003 and 2011 but never made it off the bench.

Al Ittihad’s Grohe also spent a good deal of time as a back-up keeper for the Selecao, but his 18 call-ups at least yielded a pair of caps during a 13-year stint at Gremio of Porto Alegre, which included a Copa Libertadores triumph in 2017. He turns 37 next month but, like Fabio, appears undiminished by reaching veteran status.

In this, his fifth season with Al Ittihad, competition for a first-team place has heightened with Abdullah Al Mayouf having joined from Al Hilal. But the Brazilian wears the gloves in the Saudi Pro League and so far at the Club World Cup, where he kept a clean sheet in Tuesday’s 3-0 win over Auckland City.

City rested Ederson for Wednesday's Champions League assignment at Crvena Zvezada so he can fully shake off a minor illness in time to travel to Jeddah ahead of Tuesday’s semi-final.

The 30-year-old has every expectation that, should City see their way past either Leon of Mexico or Asian champions Urawa Red Diamonds, he would line up for the final and see a seasoned compatriot at the other end of the pitch.

Updated: December 14, 2023, 9:00 AM