The ball flies high into the Manchester breeze. Claudio Bravo’s eyes are fixed. It seems to be suspended in the air, unwilling to relent to the law of gravity. Bravo’s hands are ready. He has the belief of his manager willing him on. His side is dominating the match and lead by two goals against their city rivals. He has not erred in any manner whatsoever. It is his Manchester City debut and all seems good in the world.
The ball finally opens its envelope and accepts its invitation to fall. Those eyes widen. The same hands that have won league titles for Barcelona lose all sense of coordination. The same hands that have twice led Chile to Copa America glory feel weaker than ever. He drops the ball. As Zlatan Ibrahimovic winds up to do his trademark acrobatics, Bravo dives half-heartedly to his left. It is a blind moment of hopefulness. The net bustles. The dream debut begins to unravel.
Over 900 miles away, a bar in Turin is clad with red and blue shirts. As a commotion launches by the television screen, a man sips away at his drink near the back, hiding in the darkness. He helps himself to a wry smile.
As the half-time whistle approaches, the panic begins to set in. Bravo miscontrols a backpass to the amusement of the home crowd, the shakiness of his hands spreading to his feet.
A through ball from Wayne Rooney finds its way to the edge of the box. As Jesse Lingard sprints to make something of it, Bravo and Bacary Sagna find themselves lost in translation. Sagna waits for Bravo. Bravo waits for Sagna. Lingard waits for no-one. Sagna lies on the floor, and Bravo is left stranded in no man’s land. Lingard passes to Ibrahimovic. Bravo turns to see the ball that he should be cradling in his arms, leaving the left foot of the Swede. However, rather than burst into the loving embrace of the net, the ball limps towards the covering John Stones.
The sweat trickles from Bravo’s forehead. His embarrassment has been spared. The whistle blows. He takes in the cold air, and breathes.
Bravo returns after the half-time break. He is a man of a cool exterior, his eyes unwavering. There is an iciness to him that one can’t help but admire, a thick skin that is impenetrable. He does not care for any taunts that come his way. He is to continue to play the game that his manager has told him to.
To Guardiola, the goalkeeper is an outfield player who has the fortunate privilege of wearing gloves. He does not just want his keeper to pass his way out of trouble, he demands it. The goalkeeper is an orchestrator, the opening move in a game of chess. He lures in the attacker, and spreads the ball to his divided centre-halves, opening up space for the domination of possession. The risk is great. Guardiola believes that the reward is far greater.
Bravo has little interest in giving the ball an almighty hit and hope. Even as he winds up for a long pass, he desires precision and accuracy. There is a desperation hidden within him, a desperation to be seen as more than a goalkeeper. Were he to be asked to play in the middle of the park, he would probably light his gloves on fire, rip his goalkeeping jersey to shreds, and burst into song and dance. It is that desire that sees him try to evade the challenge of Ander Herrera, only to see his heavy touch race towards Rooney. Bravo charges towards him with his studs up, leaving the striker rolling on the floor. Mark Clattenburg waves on for play to continue. Bravo pats a fallen Rooney on the back. He takes in the cold air, and breathes.
The final whistle blows. City have held on to win 2-1. He has been outmuscled. He has looked increasingly uncomfortable under the high ball. He is lucky to still be on the pitch. While the world laughs, Guardiola sings the praises of his goalkeeper.
Guardiola only accepts those who align with his vision. Those unwilling or unable to can show themselves out. He does not care for the demands of the media, fans or owners. It is that stubbornness that has brought him incredible success. For while Bravo may seem to be a risk in the mind of many, he is sure to play a significant role in Guardiola’s revolution.