There’s a touch of Ginga about Alisson Becker: he moves with swagger, relieved from the chains that, in the past, often reduced goalkeepers to contorted figures. Liverpool’s No.1 invites opposition strikers to apply pressure before dribbling past – or even chipping the ball over – them. He displayed his great dexterity in the Reds’ 1-0 victory over Brighton, but his approach backfired against Leicester when Kelechi Iheanacho intercepted his improvised Cruyff turn and teed up Rachid Ghezzal for a simple finish.
The Brazilian’s blunder was uncharacteristic. Alisson is an excellent goalkeeper and possesses all the fundamentals to consolidate his position among the world’s best. He’s imposing on his line and capable of great reflex saves, qualities which means he’s Brazil’s undisputed first choice. He briefly became the world’s most expensive glovesman when Liverpool paid Roma £67m for his services in the summer, with the 25-year-old joining his compatriot Ederson in the Premier League.
“Brazilian football was viewed in a different spotlight,” says Claudio Taffarel, Brazil’s goalkeeping coach and 1994 World Cup winner.
“When Brazilian football was looked at, everyone was looking at the No.10, the man who scored, the striker. Football has begun to change a little. Football is valuing the goalkeeper more. Today, when you look at [Pep] Guardiola’s team, they always have a goalkeeper who plays well with his feet. The Brazilian school has all this, it is technical with the feet, with the arms. Now, this is being valued.”
Taffarel stood at the cradle of Brazil’s goalkeeping revolution. He gained global fame in a nail-biting penalty shoot-out defeat of Italy in the final of USA 94. Brazil’s sweat-drenched No.1 parried Daniele Massaro’s spot-kick, before Roberto Baggio skied his effort over the bar to hand Brazil a fourth world title.
Yet Taffarel’s importance goes well beyond that landmark moment in Brazilian football history. As Brazil’s market opened up in the early 1990s – a result of increased globalisation – he crossed the Atlantic to join Parma from Internacional. Taffarel prevailed in the daunting environment of Serie A and paved the way for other Brazilian goalkeepers to move to Europe.
“In Italy, I was the first Brazilian goalkeeper, so it’s logic that it was a pull, a Brazilian goalkeeper in Italy,” he reflects. “Italy has always said that they have the best goalkeeping school. Suddenly, a Brazilian goes to play there and a lot of people were saying that I was only there because of our sponsor, Parmalat, which was entering the Brazilian market.
“My own coach told me: ‘And now you are going to become a goalkeeper.’ You encounter things like that, but you are always prepared for these challenges. It’s good that it happens. Irrespective of the fact that you’re the PR boy or there to learn, the important thing is that you’re there and that you do your work. If you look, 30 years have passed and Alisson at times encountered the same things: a Brazilian goalkeeper who’s going to get better.”
Countrymen Dida and Julio Cesar were among Taffarel’s successors, excelling in Serie A and helping to erode the myth that Brazilian goalkeepers are suspect. They were both cool, calm and often decisive, albeit still prone to the occasional blunder. Milan’s Dida won the Italian league and the Champions League twice; Inter’s Julio Cesar triumphed five times in Serie A and lifted the European Cup under Jose Mourinho in 2010.
“It’s a myth, because when I began playing for the Seleção in Italy they were saying ‘Ah, now Brazil has a goalkeeper,’ explains Taffarel.
“I moved on. Then Dida came and they went ‘Ah, now Brazil has a goalkeeper.’ He also left and Julio Cesar came. ‘Ah, now Brazil has a goalkeeper.’ Now it’s Alisson. It’s always ‘now.’ In the past, how many times has Brazil won the World Cup and how many times was the goalkeeper decisive? Marcos in 2002. People forget this and want to value their own school [of goalkeeping].
“In Brazil we also don’t want to enter in conflict with the European school, the Italian one, the Spanish one, but we understand our potential. We know what we do, how we work and we’ll always follow that path.”
Taffarel was a trailblazer, Dida and Julio Cesar consolidators, and with Alisson and Ederson Brazilian goalkeeping has come full circle. The England-based duo possess all the qualities associated with the Brazilian school: shot-stopping ability, a preference for catching the ball over palming it away, and a cool-headed mentality.
“You know, from the moment Alisson started playing at Roma he has enjoyed a natural growth. We all expected it, because in Brazil he had already shown his potential. He always showed that in the Brazilian team as well. For us, it is very important. For the Brazilian goalkeepers it opens a lot of doors in Europe when they’re spoken of well. Ederson has impressive potential. Over time he will grow.”
The Manchester City custodian is more assertive than his Liverpool counterpart, or at least Pep Guardiola’s style of play allows him to be. Ederson’s composure in possession and passing qualities make him the perfect fit for the Premier League champions.
“Ederson already played well with his feet at Benfica,”explains Taffarel. “At City, he’s playing much better. When you watch a game of his at City, he plays the ball more with his feet than with his hands. That’s the game of Guardiola. It’s logical that when a goalkeeper tries to perfect what he’s doing, the better he gets. There’s no doubt that with Guardiola’s game Ederson has grown a lot.”
Ederson’s style is not unlike that of Manuel Neuer, the archetypal modern-day sweeper-keeper. The German’s swashbuckling style and willingness to clean up outside his own box earned him plenty of plaudits at the 2014 World Cup, when die Mannschaft won a fourth world title. Taffarel recognises the comparison.
“Neuer was the guy who began playing with the feet, but Ederson plays better with his feet than Neuer,” he says. “It’s a different style. Neuer plays the ball a bit more outside of the box. At City, they play inside the box with the goalkeeper. Neuer’s game is much riskier. Neuer really made the goalkeeper participate in the game. Neuer was the instigator of this.”