Alisson Becker doesn’t make many mistakes. However, shortly after joining Roma, he appeared on a Brazilian talk show and was asked if he had learned any Italian swear words.
“I said some terrible things without realising how bad they were,” the goalkeeper admitted. “Once I did know, it was too late!”
Alisson would have been forgiven for relying almost exclusively on swear words during his first, frustrating year in the Italian capital. Despite his arrival from his native Brazil as the Selecao’s first-choice goalkeeper, Roma coach Luciano Spalletti stuck with Wojciech Szczesny as his No.1.
Alisson preferred to look on the bright side, though.
“It did feel a little lonely at first, but then I got to spend more time with my wife,” he explained. “She was pregnant and so I got to focus less on my career.
“I worked hard in training and learned a lot alongside a great goalkeeper like Szczesny.”
Restricted only to appearances in the cup competitions, Alisson’s lack of game time became a major talking point in Brazil, with many pundits arguing that Ederson should be the Selecao’s No.1.
Alisson, though, never let Brazil down, conceding just three goals in 11 appearances in the World Cup qualifiers under new coach Tite. As a result, he never felt compelled to go running to either Spalletti or the press to complain about his situation at the Stadio Olimpico.
“I wasn’t playing much due to the coach’s decision but I am a calm boy and I don’t like talking,” he confessed. “I didn’t feel comfortable going to him and saying things because he chose to have two high-level keepers and he played me in the cups.
“He used meritocracy because Szczesny had done well during the first year but let’s say that I learned to have a bit of patience.”
However, Alisson knew that with a World Cup year approaching, he needed to be playing regular league football to fend off the intense competition he was under for his Selecao shirt from Manchester City ace Ederson. Consequently, he seriously considered leaving Roma until it emerged that Szczesny was off to Juventus.
“This is the most important year of my career,” he said. “I didn’t want to leave, but I would have had to think of myself and my targets.
“Now I know that everything depends on me and my performances. Nobody in Brazil, in a World Cup year, has a guaranteed place.”
Alisson, though, could not be doing much more to solidify his status as Brazil’s best goalkeeper. There was never any doubt of him being installed as Roma’s No.1 for the 2017-18 campaign.
“When I saw him on the pitch, I was stunned by his presence and the calmness he brought to the entire team,” enthused new coach Eusebio Di Francesco.
So, while Roma may not have the best defence in Serie A this season, they do possess the best goalkeeper. Indeed, nobody has kept more clean sheets this season than Alisson (11).
His shot-stopping skills are exceptional. He has made 98 saves in all competitions this term – more than the likes of Szczesny, Jan Oblak and Marc-Andre ter Stegen – and, in terms of save percentage, he ranks fourth (79.7%) among those goalkeepers to have played at least 20 games in Europe’s ‘Big Five’ leagues, just behind David de Gea (82.3%), Ter Stegen (83.5%) and Oblak (85.9%).
“The way he behaves in the goal, he reminds me of Dino Zoff,” enthuses former Roma coach Roberto Negrisolo. “I’d also compare him to Michel Preud-Homme, who had the class of someone born to be a goalkeeper.
“I told Alisson when I met him at Roma’s Trigoria ground that he was born for this. He was already strong when he arrived, but has improved even more since he has been in Italy, especially when coming out low to get the ball. Now he is far more decisive in those situations.”
Indeed, the most common criticisms levelled at Alisson when he first broke into the Brazil squad were that he was slow off his line and poor with his distribution of the ball.
He has improved dramatically in both areas since arriving in Serie A. In the ‘Big Five’ leagues, only Hugo Lloris (32) and Ederson (39) have acted as a sweeper-keeper more times this season than Allison (28), while his pass accuracy of 80.9% puts the likes of De Gea (57.3) and Oblak (48.1%) to shame.
As he underlined with his expletive-laden appearance on Brazilian TV, he is a pretty fast learner and, at 25, he is only going to get better, which is partly why Liverpool were ready to sign him for €70 million until manager Jurgen Klopp decided to put his faith in Loris Karius.
Negrisolo, though, is adamant that Alisson would be worth every penny, arguing that he has everything required to become the greatest goalkeeper of his generation.
“I don’t think many people have realised who Alisson is,” he argued. “This guy is a phenomenon. He is the number one of number ones.
“He is the Messi of goalkeepers, because he has the same mentality as Messi. He is a goalkeeper who can define an era.”
Liverpool could easily end up cursing their decision not to sign him.