Alisson: bold and brave Brazilian with goalkeeping in his genes
Liverpool’s €75m signing overcame tough Roma start to become most expensive goalkeeper
Alisson in training with Brazil during the 2018 World Cup. File photograph: Sergio Perez/Reuters
Alisson may be a little more cautious in his approach to learning a new language this time around. Shortly after signing for Roma in 2016 the goalkeeper appeared on a TV talk show in his native Brazil. Asked by the host if he had learned how to curse in Italian, Alisson responded by turning the air blue. “I said terrible things without realising the gravity,” he later recounted. “Once I’d understood, it was too late.” More than mere cursing, it was his blasphemy that surprised in Catholic Italy and Brazil.
Alisson insulted God and the Virgin Mary with expressions heard commonly enough on Serie A pitches but not in a context such as this. The backlash was mild and yet it cut deep for a man who describes the Bible as his “manual”. More testing experiences lay ahead.
Alisson had arrived as Brazil’s first-choice goalkeeper but found himself backing up Wojciech Szczesny at Roma. He played only 15 games in the 2016-17 season, all of them in the cups, and has since confessed he thought about asking to be sold. If only Liverpool had recognised his talent then. Roma had paid only €8 million to sign Alisson from the Brazilian club Internacional and could scarcely have demanded a huge profit on the basis of such scant evidence. One year later he has become the most expensive goalkeeper in history.
Is he worth it? Such questions feel impossible to answer in a climate where fees spiral endlessly upwards, propelled by ever more lucrative TV deals. Only Liverpool’s directors and management team know what they can afford. From a footballing perspective the relevant question is simply whether or not Alisson will help them to pick up positive results where otherwise they might have missed out. He met that criterion for Roma. It is enough to look at the nine saves Alisson made during a 0-0 draw at home to Atlético Madrid in last season’s Champions League – a pivotal result in the Giallorossi topping their group – or his 11 stops during the win at Napoli in March.
More impressive still was his performance during a 1-1 draw against Internazionale at San Siro. Alisson made six saves that day, yet it was the ones he never needed to make that stood out even more. Time and again he denied Inter by stepping up to intercept passes intended for Mauro Icardi – at one point even beating the striker to a header in the D on the edge of his area. How better to thwart one of football’s most efficient penalty-box finishers than denying him access to that box in the first place?
Alisson is a sweeper-keeper in the modern mould, naming Manuel Neuer as a player he has tried to model himself on. That said, his first influences were closer to home. His great-grandfather, father and older brother also played (or, in the latter case, still play) in goal. So too did his mother, though her sport was handball. “My father says that, if we have chosen this role, it’s because we went to watch him play when we were kids,” said Alisson during an interview with Gazzetta dello Sport this year. “He was a madman in goal. He threw himself head-first on the ball.”
For the first time in his career Alisson is joining a team knowing that the starting job is his to lose
Such boldness has made its way down the family line, though Alisson is just as likely to show it off when the ball is at his own feet. He dribbled past more than one opposing forward last season, and left Udinese’s Stipe Perica on his backside with a backheel turn 25 yards from goal . There is a fine line between brave and foolhardy but, for Roma at least, Alisson managed to stay on the right side of it. He has always prided himself on being a good team-mate first and foremost. It is telling that, even during that frustrating first season in Italy, he maintained a good relationship with Szczesny and has spoken of picking up useful tips from the Poland international. Once again his family background might influence this outlook.
Alisson first went in goal as a kid because he wanted to join in with his brother’s friends and – because of a five-year age gap – was too small to mix it with them outfield. Yet Muriel eventually became a keeper, too, and a decade later they were fighting for the same job at Internacional.
Alisson supplanted his sibling as the starter, yet they were never anything less than fully supportive of one another in their public remarks. The context at Liverpool will be different. For the first time in his career Alisson is joining a team knowing that the starting job is his to lose. If nothing else, he looks the part.
Alisson turned down offers of paid modelling work during his younger years in order to focus on his football. It seems curious that Roma did not do more to exploit the marketability of such a player – never even offering his replica shirt for sale. Liverpool, after such a lavish outlay, are unlikely to make the same mistake – just as Alisson, after his gaffe two years ago, is unlikely to be so forthcoming this time around about the first words he learns at Melwood. – Guardian