Reading have announced the signing of Joao Virginia, a young goalkeeper from Everton. So what should we expect to see in his season-long loan stay at the Madejski Stadium? We’ve tried to answer everything you’d want to know below.
Who is he?
Joao Manuel Neves Virginia, 19, comes from Faro in southern Portugal. He’s right-footed, pretty lanky at almost 6ft 3, and speaks fluent English having moved here from his home country four years ago. Everton have even used him as an “unofficial translator”, helping the Portuguese-speaking players settle into life in England.
What’s his experience in the game like?
Virginia’s youth career started off in the academy of Portuguese giants Benfica in 2012, but he didn’t make a single first-team appearance in his three years at the club before joining Arsenal in 2015. Things seemed to be going really well for him at the Emirates, and he even made it clear in 2018 that he was set on breaking into the Gunners’ first team:
“Currently, [I am] already training with [the first team] several days a week and I want to continue to make progress. I wish to be third and then the second keeper until I can get to the number one jersey as soon as possible.
“Playing in the first team for Arsenal and being the number one, which is still vacant, it is at present my great goal, my biggest dream.”
And yet, a few months later he swapped North London for Liverpool, moving to Everton on a permanent deal. It’s a transfer that shocked plenty of Arsenal fans, with it seemingly likely that Virginia would get his chance in the first team at some point.
Virginia to Everton move is really, really strange. Lack of goalkeepers at U23 level now for Arsenal, imagine Hein will step up. Virginia such a talented goalkeeper, big blow to lose him.— Jeorge Bird (@jeorgebird) August 3, 2018
Whatever the reason for joining Everton, Virginia continued where he left off with Arsenal, making waves with the Toffees’ youth side last season. He hit the ground running, making a star debut performance in a 1-0 win for Everton’s under-23 team over Leicester City.
The Liverpool Echo praised Virginia’s “consistency” in that game, and noted that he “showed he comfortable he is at coming for crosses, how adept he is with the ball at his feet and how alert he remains for the full 90 minutes.” However, the biggest plaudit was under-23 manager David Unsworth:
“Outstanding, absolutely outstanding. He’s a great lad, got great English, he’s commanding and what he’s done tonight is set a standard I’ve not seen at this level from a goalkeeper. That’s the standard we all must aspire to from a goalkeeping point of view.”
Virginia went on to make a total of 12 appearances for Everton’s under-23s in Premier League 2 last season, in the process keeping nine clean sheets and conceding just six times. In an echo of his ambitious comments at Arsenal, he again set his sights on first-team football, stating his intention at the beginning of June 2019 to “get a little bit closer to the first-team and breakthrough and hopefully play some games”.
First-team manager Marco Silva was of a similar mind, and had said the previous month that Virginia’s future was not in the academy:
“The level of u-23s is not so good for him now, he is at another level already and he showed that. It is up to us to now decide if he is ready to be here and compete or to play more in another place. We are really happy with him.”
The young goalie has also made an impression on the international scene, turning out for Portugal’s youth sides all the way through from under-16 to under-21 level. A few months ago he played three times for Portugal in the under-20 World Cup, although they were knocked out in the group stages after one win, one draw and one defeat. Nonetheless, he’s expected to turn out for his country’s senior team in the future.
What style of goalkeeper is he?
Working this one out is a little tricky as, naturally, there isn’t a huge amount of writing out there about a player who’s not turned out at senior level. Nonetheless, his experience so far gives a valuable insight into what we can expect.
It shouldn’t be overlooked that Virginia has spent his career so far at three different, top-level academies: Benfica, Arsenal and now Everton - which has given him a range of experience that he wouldn’t have got simply by staying at one club. Interestingly though, he’s worked with the same goalkeeping coach at both Benfica and Everton: Hugo Oliveira. The 40 year-old has previously helped to develop some of the best ‘keepers in the world: Manchester City’s Ederson and Atletico Madrid’s Jan Oblak.
That said, the cultural shift in moving from Portugal to England is something that Virginia has had to overcome. He’s previously said that the change in style took some getting used to, but he seems to adjusted well.
“When I first came to England you had to do a lot of gym sessions and even in training there was a bit more cardio work, you had to be more aggressive. Portuguese football was more technical, more about skill, so that was a big difference.
“I remember one of my first games it was just crosses. And crosses from everywhere. It was only an under-18 game but I felt a big difference in there and coming into contact with the bodies of the defenders and the attackers. But I have improved that a lot and, now, when I go to them I am quite physical and they are falling down, not me.”
Because of all the above, we can safely determine that Virginia is a well-rounded, well-coached young goalkeeper in a similar mould to modern goalkeepers. You shouldn’t expect anything less for someone with the footballing education he’s had.
The question now of course is how well he’ll take to his first taste of first-team football. It’s a step up that he certainly has the ability to pull off, but regular Championship football is a very different challenge to what he’s faced so far.