How goalkeeper Ortega is playing his part in Man City success

As Stefan Ortega stood in the tunnel of the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium waiting to receive his player-of-the-match award, he joked that there was no chance his wife, Sabina, would let him keep the garish yellow and purple trophy on the mantelpiece at their family home. Instead, it’s taken pride of place in a special room taken over by Ortega to house his growing collection of medals and memorabilia.

After two years at Manchester City, that room is starting to fill up, and his save to deny Son Heung-Min — the one that won him the award against Spurs — in their penultimate game played a big part in earning a second Premier League winners medal.

“He saves us, otherwise Arsenal are champions,” manager Pep Guardiola said after that win. “That is the reality. The margins are so tight. The save from Son. It was incredible.”

As Son ran through with the chance to equalise, potentially swinging the title race back in Arsenal’s favour, Guardiola slumped to the floor. On the bench, though, goalkeeper coach Xabier Mancisidor remained relatively confident.

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Ortega is rated by City’s staff as one of the best goalkeepers in one-on-one situations. According to one source, he has a way of controlling what he wants to happen using subtle movements with his eyes and body. It worked against Son — Ortega was able to fling out a leg, stop the shot and keep City on course to win a record fourth consecutive title before finishing the job with a 3-1 win over West Ham United on the final day of the season.

The Son save was even more remarkable given that Ortega had been on the pitch for only a matter of minutes, replacing Éderson midway through the second half. The Brazil No. 1 had been injured following a heavy collision with Tottenham defender Cristian Romero, but having passed all the concussion checks, he was cleared to carry on by the medical team. At that point it was down to Guardiola to decide, and his faith in Ortega meant it was considered a bigger risk to continue with Éderson.

There were times early in his career when Ortega would let his emotions take over, but now 31, he has developed a calmness that, according to one source, is vital for a goalkeeper called off the bench and thrown into the heat of a game. When he got the nod against Spurs, there was no anxiety or panic, just a quiet confidence.

Éderson is City’s established first-choice goalkeeper, but Guardiola considers the gap between his No. 1 and No. 2 as the smallest he has seen in 16 years of management. City’s goalkeeping department — led by 38-year-old Scott Carson — is considered a tight group, but Guardiola has had to tread carefully since Ortega was thrust into the spotlight against Spurs. He was full of praise for the German in his postmatch news conference, but three days later he was asked again about Ortega and the City boss chose instead to highlight Éderson’s contribution to his winning machine.

“People talk about the incredible save from Stefan many times and it was,” Guardiola said, “but Eddie has done it before with Son and the same action and saved it. Do you know the reason why we won the Champions League last season? It was Éderson. We cannot define this period without Eddie. It is impossible.”

As if to emphasise the point that he has been quietly impressive for seven years at the Etihad Stadium, Éderson turned up to City’s title party at a Manchester restaurant on Sunday night wearing a T-shirt featuring pictures of himself underneath his own name written in large green font.

There are doubts about his future heading into the summer. A source has told ESPN that if City were to receive a large enough offer for Éderson, they would consider it, and if he wants to leave, the club would back themselves to move on just as they did with Raheem Sterling, Gabriel Jesus and Oleksandr Zinchenko.

Ortega’s future is not certain either. He’s under contract until 2025, and City have made an offer to extend, but no agreement has yet been reached.

Guardiola knows how difficult it is to find a reliable backup goalkeeper. When Bayern Munich wanted to sign Ortega as cover for the injured Manuel Neuer in 2023, he blocked the move.

There’s an acceptance that Ortega might want to be a first-choice keeper elsewhere, but that would likely mean having to take a step down. He has played 33 times for City since arriving from Arminia Bielefeld in 2022 and has won six major trophies. He could make it seven when he lines up against Manchester United in the FA Cup final at Wembley on Saturday (9:50 a.m. ET, stream live on ESPN+).

He would have played anyway given his role as City’s designated cup keeper, but it’s testament to Ortega’s ability that very few supporters were concerned when it was announced that Éderson’s injury would rule him out of the last two games of the season.

When Mancisidor was tasked with finding City a No. 2 goalkeeper to replace Zack Steffen in 2022, Guardiola had never even heard of Ortega. After his first training session with his new teammates in July the same year, Ortega rang his agent to say it was so tough that maybe the move had been a mistake. Fast forward two years, and he will start the FA Cup final against United with the full trust of his manager and the nearly 40,000 City fans who will make the trip to Wembley wanting to see their team lift another trophy.

If they win, Ortega already knows where the medal is going.