In the 15th minute of Portugal’s World Cup qualifier against the Republic of Ireland on Wednesday night, Cristiano Ronaldo walked towards the penalty spot before standing menacingly over the ball.
The Manchester United man was on the brink of creating history having been afforded the opportunity to score his 110th international goal – a landmark that would see him become the outright record goalscorer in men’s international football.
But a 19-year-old Manchester City player stopped him.
Gavin Bazunu will remember that moment for the rest of his life. Hurling his imposing frame to the right of his goal, he somehow diverted Ronaldo’s penalty away from the goal with his face before being mobbed by his teammates.
Ultimately, Ronaldo would get his revenge, scoring twice in the final eight minutes to break Irish hearts. But who exactly is the teenager who dared to delay the Portuguese superstar’s big moment?
At City since 17
Bazunu joined City in February 2019 from Shamrock Rovers as a fresh-faced 17-year-old.
City’s interests were peaked by two things in particular. Firstly, Bazunu was clearly ready for the next stage in his career. As a 15-year-old he’d already trained with Rovers’ first team, such was the speed of his development.
Secondly, his ability on the ball fitted Pep Guardiola’s model for a goalkeeper perfectly.
Rovers’ under-15 coach and first-team player Luke Byrne previously said of Bazunu: “If the numbers in training were odd, and the coach needed a floating player in a possession drill, Gav would be that player.
“Usually it would be a central midfield player, someone who was really comfortable on the ball, but Gavin was the 15-year-old fourth choice goalkeeper who was jumping into the outfield part of training sessions.”
Ironically, it was a wayward Bazunu pass that resulted in Portugal’s spot-kick on Wednesday, yet the youngster showed the mentality and strength fellow ball-playing goalkeeper Ederson boasts to atone for his error.
On the international stage
After being named in the squad for City’s Champions League last-16 tie against Real Madrid in August 2020, Bazunu went to Rochdale on a one-year loan.
Some impressive displays weren’t enough to keep Rochdale in the division, but his performances did catch the eye of Republic of Ireland coach Stephen Kenny.
Bazunu received his first senior Ireland call-up in March 2021, making his debut in a forgettable 1-0 defeat to Luxembourg. Wednesday’s 2-1 loss to Portugal marked his fifth cap, with his place in the team seemingly now his to lose.
Back in June, Kenny said of his young keeper: “He’s been absolutely excellent, but I would like him to get some game time in front of a passionate crowd.”
The return of spectators in 2021/22 and a loan move to Portsmouth gave him just that.
In four appearances for the south coast club this season, Bazunu has kept three clean sheets. Again, his passing ability is a key driver of the hype surrounding him.
“Gavin can play so high out of his goal and that allows us to use him as our pivot. That allows us to get an extra number on the pitch,” Portsmouth manager Dan Cowley said after his goalkeeper was involved in the build-up to one of his side’s goals against Crewe Alexandra last month.
“He can be a real protagonist in our attacking play, despite wearing number one.”
We can already imagine Guardiola’s wry smile as he rubs his hands together.
Ready for the big-time?
If Cowley’s comments before the Portugal game are anything to go by, then Bazunu is ready to mix it with the very best in the game.
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“He won’t be fazed, that is for sure. He will know everything about Ronaldo because he has just got an incredible intensity about him.
“He is going right to the top. I have no doubt.”
On September 1, Ederson signed a new contract with City, keeping him at the Etihad Stadium until 2026. The 28-year-old is undoubtedly the perfect goalkeeper for City’s style of play, and looks set to keep his starting berth for many years to come.
But when the time comes, City know exactly who will replace the Brazilian.
“I wouldn’t have gone to Manchester City unless I thought I could be the number one goalkeeper,” Bazunu said in June. “Every day that’s what I work towards. That’s the goal.”
With an attitude like that and an extraordinary ability on the ball, there’s every reason to believe Bazunu will be starting City’s attacks in the future.
Do you think that Gavin Bazunu could be City’s number one goalkeeper in the near future? Follow our new City Fan Brands Writer Alex Brotherton on Twitter to get involved in the discussion and give us your thoughts in the comments section below.