After Champions League success with Liverpool and a Copa America triumph with Brazil, does individual glory await the 26-year-old shot-stopper?
“Best in the world? Really?”
Maybe Alisson Becker was just being modest. Or maybe he genuinely was surprised to learn he had been voted the world’s No.1 goalkeeper by Goal back in November.
If it was the latter, he wasn’t alone. The reaction to that vote, on social media in particular, was mixed to say the least.
How, we were asked, could we possibly pick that guy as our No.1 ahead of Jan Oblak/David de Gea/Marc-Andre ter Stegen/Hugo Lloris/Manuel Neuer/anyone else? What had we been watching? Did we really get paid for these opinions?!
Fast forward eight months, and the conversation has shifted somewhat.
Whisper it quietly, but where Alisson has been concerned, we may need to start talking about the Ballon d’Or.
It’s been a special few weeks for the 26-year-old, who followed up Champions League glory with his club by adding the Copa America with his country. For Liverpool and for Brazil, he has been a game-changer.
Goalkeepers, traditionally, don’t fare too well when it comes to the Ballon d’Or. In fact, in the 63 years the award has been in existence, only one has ever won it. Lev Yashin, the great Soviet shot-stopper, stands alone with his 1963 triumph.
Since then, only four others have made it into the top three.
Dino Zoff was second to Johan Cruyff in 1973, while Gigi Buffon was behind Fabio Cannavaro in 2006. Oliver Kahn, third in both 2001 and 2002, has been the only ‘keeper to have been honoured twice, while his fellow German, Manuel Neuer, was the last to be shortlisted, finishing third in 2014.
Alisson’s case, though, has been a compelling one. In an era dominated by attacking stars – Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo had shared the previous 10 awards prior to Luka Modric’s success last year – the man from Novo Hamburgo has moved, almost unnoticed, into contention.
His form has been remarkable. In his last 10 games for club and country, Alisson has conceded just one goal. Even that was a penalty, converted by Peru’s Paolo Guerrero in the Copa America final on Sunday. He’s shut out Harry Kane, Son Heung-min, Luis Suarez and Sergio Aguero.
And Lionel Messi, of course. Twice.
“He’s proved this year he’s a great goalkeeper,” says Ray Clemence, considered by many to be the greatest in Liverpool’s history. “He deserves all the accolades.”
In May, he picked up the Premier League Golden Glove award, the first Liverpool goalkeeper to do so since Pepe Reina in 2008. He ended his debut season in England with 21 clean sheets in the league, the last line behind the division’s meanest defence.
His performances have been good enough to kill any discussion about the fee Liverpool paid Roma for him last summer. At £65 million (€72.5m/$81m), Alisson already looks a bargain.
“If I knew he was this good, I would have paid double!” said Jurgen Klopp after Liverpool’s Champions League win over Napoli in December.
Alisson had secured that victory – and with it progression to the last 16 – with a remarkable last-minute save from Arkadiusz Milik, and he would maintain his form as the Reds went all the way to the final.
There, in Madrid, he stood firm, making a series of saves as Liverpool saw off Tottenham to lift their sixth European title. He was, along with Virgil van Dijk, the game’s outstanding performer.
“He makes spectacular things look really easy,” says Klopp. The German waxes lyrical about Alisson’s positional play, concentration and temperament.
“He deserves all the plaudits because sometimes I don’t understand how he has been able to get a part of his body behind the round ball,” he added.
As for the Ballon d’Or, competition will be strong. Virgil van Dijk has been the current favourite, just ahead of Lionel Messi. Cristiano Ronaldo, winner of both Serie A and the Nations League, remains a contender as ever.
Alisson, though, has been very much in the picture. His odds have tumbled in recent weeks, and should he maintain his form into the new season, he could well find himself in the final three.
Not that the man himself has been too fussed, mind.
“There are a lot of top players aspiring for that prize,” he said recently. “I just limit myself to doing my job. I’m just a goalkeeper.”
Article continues below
There’s that modesty again. If the last 12 months have proven anything, it has been that Alisson Ramses Becker has been far, far more than that. Just ask Klopp. Or Tite.
“Best in the world? Really?”