Nice interview with our new goalkeeper. Even has a little (unintentional) dig at Everton while he's at it
At the final whistle on Tuesday evening the Anfield air was filled with the simple chant of “Alisson, Alisson, Alisson”. Liverpool’s goalkeeper had, in stoppage time, made an incredible save. If Arkadiusz Milik had scored from close range then Napoli would have progressed to the Champions League last 16 at Liverpool’s expense.
The moment gave me goosebumps. To be a Liverpool supporter and hear your name — just your name — repeated with an intensity saved only for cult heroes is liable to lead to smirking. I smirked. Two days later, Alisson giggled.
It would be fun, I thought, if Alisson met Alyson. “Hello, I’m Alisson,” he says. “I’m Alyson,” I say.
Hilarious. Well, not really, not until The Times photographer asks one of us to lean forward as we try to recreate a still from Alas Smith and Jones. We both lean forward.
“No, not you, Alyson; Alisson,” he says and the Brazil player, in his first one-on-one interview with a British newspaper, roars with laughter as the photography descends into farce.
That save, though. It prompted Jürgen Klopp to say that he would have paid double for Alisson if he had known that the goalkeeper was quite that marvellous, which means, really, that Liverpool have a player worth £112 million rising to £130 million if they win a few trophies this season. If they do win some silverware it will be in large part thanks to the 26-year-old.
Klopp is no fool. There is a time to avoid the hype and a time to fuel it. There were moments — when the club were reliant on either Simon Mignolet or Loris Karius — when doubts bred doubts, when the nervousness in the stands transmitted to the pitch so that the team’s defence possessed an air of fragility, of a mistake waiting to happen.
Part of what makes Alisson so valuable is his aura. Against Napoli he would calmly stoop to collect the ball as the Italian club’s forwards scampered towards him and he would receive gushing applause, not because he had done anything remarkable but because no one inside the stadium expected anything less than for him to execute the simple things properly. Sometimes reliability is quite exquisite.
Presumably, when he made that last-minute save from Milik, Alisson felt as though he had scored the winning goal.
“Definitely that is the case,” Alisson says. “A save at the end of the game is always great and you feel you have contributed to the game. Of course, an important save in the first minute is as important as a save in the last minute but for the fans it’s the closest thing to scoring a goal in the last minute, like we did in the derby against Everton.
“But I only managed to make that save with the help of my team-mates’ contribution and thank God we got the victory.”
He sounds older and wiser than his years and he has heard the Alisson chant before. The fans of Internacional in Porto Alegre would use it but at Roma they adapted a song about the Brazilian angel, which the supporters once used for Aldair, their Brazil centre back who won the 1994 World Cup.
It was last year’s slightly crazy, goal-fuelled Champions League semi-final between Roma and Liverpool that helped Alisson decide to join the Merseyside club. He had already been linked with Klopp’s team and the fans made sure he could tell how much they wanted him. He signed in July and took the No 13 shirt and laughs at the suggestion that he was crazy to
“It’s an unlucky number in Brazil as well but I’m not superstitious,” he says. “It was the number going spare and the number I chose.”
He does not like to celebrate during a match but the exception came in the home game against Everton this month, when Divock Origi scored the winner in the sixth minute of added time. So delighted was Klopp that he sprinted on to the pitch, heading towards his goalkeeper. All the chat was about Klopp’s ebullience and his subsequent fine but what was going through the head of Alisson as he saw his manager hurtling in his direction?
“It’s hard to explain what was happening,” he says. “It was at the end of the game, I was celebrating. Generally, I prefer not to celebrate too much so I can concentrate on the game and stay level-headed but the goal came at the end of the game so I could let it all out.
“I ran to the middle of the field and did my usual celebrations, pointing to the heavens, thanking God, and then I looked to one side and I saw Jürgen and I thought, ‘What is he doing?’ It was a great moment and I gave him a big hug.
“I appreciate it wasn’t the correct thing to do and he has been punished for that — but it was worth it.”
What does he like most about Klopp? “That. His passion for football, for winning, for doing the right thing. He does the best for the club and the players. Not just the players but all the staff, everyone involved in the football club. He has this passion that he transmits to us that we then take on the field. I believe that is the most important [characteristic] — that and his intelligence.”
The bigger and better the club, the more likely it is that their goalkeeper spends long periods doing nothing much at all. Alisson partly maintains concentration by not celebrating too soon but also by shifting position.
“I constantly look at the ball, wherever it is,” he explains. “If it’s on the left I position myself to the left, if it’s on the right I position myself on the right so if there was a counterattack I would be able to intervene, and I constantly talk to the defenders around me. That’s how I maintain concentration.”
I put this to the test. As we recreate Smith and Jones we engage in a staring contest. Alisson wins. He does not even blink when talking. He does not blink when assessing the visit of Manchester United on Sunday.
Alisson won the staring contest with Alyson and says talking to his defence aids his concentration
“The two clubs I played for previously, Internacional and Roma, they had two major derbies so I’m used to derbies and, worldwide, the Liverpool-United rivalry is well known,” he says. “We were very familiar with it in Brazil, more aware of it than of the Liverpool and Everton rivalry given the size of the two clubs, but knowing about it and experiencing it are two different things. I can’t wait to experience it and some beautiful football.
“The game against Napoli was really special, we had to get a specific result and were pushed on by the supporters. I don’t think Sunday will be any different. It’s a really important game in terms of our aspirations to win the title. We need the win, we will have the support to do that and to continue with our excellent trajectory.”
Alisson is from Novo Hamburgo, which gives him an additional connection to his German manager.
“Novo Hamburgo is a town of German origin and my surname, Becker, is a German name,” he says. “In the south of Brazil it’s predominantly colonised by Germans and Italians and the Portuguese, of course, and in the south we have German and Italian customs.
“The cultural legacy is quite strong there. We have similar food and music and festivities that come from Germany, especially in my town, and they have an Oktoberfest in a neighbouring town.
“My grandparents were German speakers. Over the generations we lost the language but my grandparents didn’t speak Portuguese, just German. It’s great to have the opportunity to visit Germany because it’s our ancestral home and it definitely arouses the interest in our heritage.
“Where we grew up, there is a piece of Germany there.
He is five years younger than his brother, Muriel. I am tempted to say that I have an older sister called Muriel but I resist, mainly because I don’t, but I do point out that there could be some confusion about siblings called Alisson and Muriel and he tells me about a visit to Disney World in Orlando. “We were parking and you had to give your name because it was a rental car and when the security guard came over he referred to me as ‘Princess Alisson’.”
Muriel is a goalkeeper for Belenenses, in Portugal, having also started his career at Internacional.
“He’s had a really important part in my career,” Alisson says. “I admire him both as a person and a professional. He has always been there, I’ve always followed in his footsteps. Without him I might have been able to get here but it would have been much more difficult.
“I would have needed someone else to fill his role of pushing me, advising me and motivating me. My brother and my parents have been the most influential people for my career and success.”
Alisson will fly his brother and parents over for Christmas. It is the only way he will be able to see them, given the intense football schedule in England.
“I already knew about the fixtures before I came here,” he says. “I watched the Premier League over the festive season and [here he does a double take] what? It’s Christmas.
“But I’ll be doing what I love. The family are coming over from Brazil and my brother is coming over from Portugal so I will be able to spend some precious time with them when I get the chance.”
He may treat them to a guitar solo. The Liverpool players have already heard him play but “I’m better as a goalkeeper,” he says.
His guitar hero is John Mayer, the American singer-songwriter, and he laughs at the thought that Mayer may want to meet him. “I don’t think he’s a football fan.”
As far as football fans are concerned, especially those of his new club, Alisson is fast becoming the most coveted goalkeeper in England. Liverpool have a tradition of cherishing good keepers and the Brazilian has set a club record by avoiding defeat in his first 16 league games. It has made fans go misty-eyed, thinking back to the days of Ray Clemence and Bruce Grobbelaar.
“I think it’s too early for this,” he says. “Obviously, I’m really happy with all the love I’m receiving from the fans and the due recognition, which means I’m doing things right on the field, but Liverpool have always had
“People talk about Pepe Reina, how the fans held him in high esteem, the staff here remember him fondly.
“So, I’m happy with the recognition and the love received but I have so much more to offer, to contribute to Liverpool.”