Alisson Becker: The Liverpool goalkeeper who lives for the risk and reward of the game

Interview: The Brazilian speaks to The Independent about learning from his mistakes, using his feet and life at Anfield

Simon Hughes
Friday 28 September 2018 19:06
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp says Alisson mistake against Leicester was inevitable

When Liverpool’s players spent a week training in the foothills of the Alps this summer, Alisson Becker revealed himself as a guitarist of reasonable talent. In the dusk of Evian and with the volume on the karaoke system dimmed, the gaucho emerged. Alisson is from Novo Hamburgo in the southern Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul, a place where German is spoken and the legends are colourful horsemen and their lively cowhands. He reached for the instrument he always carries wherever football takes him and in front of an unfamiliar crowd, released an acoustic version of Don’t Look Back in Anger by Oasis.

When footballers are asked about meanings or symbolism it can often come across as schmaltz and yet listening to Alisson talk about the sort of experience that by his own admission used to result in his door being bolted, you do sense he is over what happened at Leicester City earlier this month when he tried a Cruyff turn only to be dispossessed. Suddenly, Liverpool’s 2-0 lead had been halved and though his new team would still end up winning, the focus was all on him.

He would discuss in detail the process of recovery in an interview where he would treat each question very seriously, giving long answers through an interpreter, though his English is improving. It became clear that he does reflect on his work – particularly when it goes wrong. Yet he does not appear to dwell either. There was an ease to his introspection and a confidence in his words. His form since has been good.

“I’ve locked myself in my room and wanted to be on my own a lot in my career but I don’t do that anymore,” he said playfully, releasing a broad smile, though he would become more forceful and analytical in reminding why Liverpool were willing to make him the world’s most expensive goalkeeper in the first place.

“I am more mature today so I deal better with mistakes,” he continued. “If you look at my professional history as a goalkeeper I’m not somebody who makes many. My game is characterised by consistency and that is what has brought me to Liverpool and helped me grow and develop. I like to make simple saves. I don’t make saves for the camera. If the ball is in front of me I won’t dive. If it’s to the side of me I will dive to the side. I like to keep it simple. My saves are not to show off or Hollywood saves for the camera.

“I am working on playing with my feet so I take risks,” he admitted. “I am waiting for options. I am waiting for the centre-backs to produce an option, I’m waiting for the full-backs to appear as well; hoping that a space for a pass will appear at the last moment. That’s what happened in the Leicester game. I was waiting for that option of a pass, leaving it very late for the option to appear. It was at a time of the game when we were under pressure and I do know now that I should have taken the option of kicking the ball into the stands.”

Instead, Alisson tried to out-wit Kelechi Iheanacho and ended up being out-witted himself.

“The ball held up in the grass,” he reasoned. “If it hadn’t held up in the grass I think it would have been a successful dribble. I was pushed from behind as well, and that was a real learning curve for me about the Premier League. Here the referees maybe don’t call the fouls that you would expect to get in other leagues. Things are different here to other countries and I’ve learned that I can’t wait for the referee or expect the referee to call the foul. Today I will take less risks and when the options aren’t appearing I will clear it into the stands or play a long ball up front.

“The secret of the wise man is to learn from the errors of others,” he concluded. “However, unfortunately in the Leicester game it was my error. I do take some risks and leave it late to play the ball but I’ll stop taking these risks in the Premier League because of the different style of play, the physicality and the different refereeing styles.”

Alisson insists he’s learned from his mistake at Leicester

The word risk appears regularly in Alisson’s backstory but so does reward. He was nearly 21 when he made his professional debut for Internacional, where he would end up putting Dida, a World Cup winner, into retirement. Having played in fewer than 50 first team games, Dunga – then in charge of the national team – sought the advice of another World Cup-winning ‘keeper and a veteran of three tournaments in Taffarel. “It has to be him,” Tafferel said, when the pair travelled to Porto Alegre on a scouting mission, having decided that Jefferson should be replaced.

Instagram certainly does not always explain the way things are but sometimes it can tell you a little bit about a person. Alisson likes driving his car while listening to salsa and rhumba. He also likes asado and has already used the barbecue in the garden of his home in Liverpool’s suburbs several times, cooking while wearing a suede Indiana Jones-style hat. He had loved living in Rome with his wife Natalia, a qualified doctor who had worked in Brazil as a paediatrician.

When Liverpool’s interest in him became apparent before the World Cup, he took council off people he trusted, one of them Roberto Firmino. Considering Philippe Coutinho made it seem like he couldn’t wait to get away from the north-west of England by the time of his departure for Catalonia in January, in private he has since been very complimentary about the lifestyle he left behind on Merseyside.

“…we talked about the belief, the sort of family atmosphere at the club,” Alisson explained. “It’s not just a football club, we are one big family. He [Coutinho] spoke highly of Jürgen and he spoke about the players. He said there is no vanity in the squad but it’s a very ambitious squad with a strong desire to win. I saw that on the pitch. What Phil told me added to what I had already witnessed playing here at Anfield [with Roma] and then when I came and signed here, it all came together and made sense.”

The Brazilian said he doesn’t think about the value of his summer transfer

Less sense could be made, of course, of the transfer fee that secured the deal. For eighteen days, Alisson was, indeed, the most expensive goalkeeper in the world until Chelsea spent £72m on Kepa from Athletic Bilbao. With so much attacking talent on show, it is probably fair to conclude that the meeting this weekend between Chelsea and Liverpool at Stamford Bridge has a decent chance of being defined by the ability of its goalkeepers

“I appreciate some people think that it’s a crazy, absurd amount of money,” Allison said when asked about his own worth. “But, for me, I don’t really think about the value of the transfer. I think more about what I can give back to the club for the faith they have invested in me. I don’t like to think about the numbers. What is more important for me is the expectation that is placed on me. I’m coming off the best season I’ve ever had and I’m hoping to do even better this season. I’m calm about it. That’s the football business and what happens off the pitch now. It doesn’t affect me or what I do on the pitch.”

Should Virgil van Dijk not recover from his rib injury, the attention will sharpen on Alisson’s performance but he appears to relish the responsibility in the landscape which he has helped shift.

“A goalkeeper is a very influential position and that is becoming recognised,” he said. “Any error that we make can be fatal for the team.” Seven games into his Liverpool career, he already knows that better than anyone.

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