With Alisson’s move from Roma to Liverpool now official, the ESPN FC guys discuss where the club will finish with the Brazil goalkeeper on board.
There were plenty of obstacles that almost took Alisson, starting goalkeeper for Brazil, off the pitch. Now 25, he has dealt with issues regarding his weight, height and his family’s finances, while also challenging his initial choice as a player, in order to become the player he is today. This is his story, as told by those who saw him as a child, rising in the football world.
Alisson was born in Novo Hamburgo, in the Porto Alegre metropolitan region. Alisson Becker carries German genes in his DNA. His grandparents even live on a street named after his great grandfather: Gustavo Becker.
That last name, which actually means “Baker” in Portuguese, became a symbol for the family, which proudly took on the tradition of producing (and tasting) lots of baked goods. And that’s where Alisson’s first big challenge started.
“Alisson was a glutton,” Antonia, Alisson’s grandmother, says with a laugh. “As soon as he went home, he was headed straight to the kitchen. He asked me to bake some sweet bread for him. I prepared those with cinnamon, sweet herbs and the like. It was so delicious, and he loved it all.”
Alisson had a sweet tooth and all of his grandmother’s recipes became a real temptation.
“He loved to taste homemade dough, and he asked me to do it for him,” Antonia continued. “However, he loved to eat everything fried; whether it was dough, cheese, rice, everything. He also loved candy. During his vacations, I used to take him and [his brother] Muriel to the market. I bought chocolate and I told him: ‘Alisson, that’s not for you to eat!’ To which he said: ‘Oh, Grandma, please let me have a taste here, since mom’s not around!'”
The problem was that the eating habit he developed as a small kid was also present when he started to play football. He already had an issue with his height; despite the fact he was actually taller than other kids defending the posts on the field, he was shorter than the rest of the keepers. Considering he was also struggling with the scale, it was logical that he would end up being relegated when he started to play at Internacional.
Let’s forget for a second about that calm and composed Alisson we are used to seeing between the posts nowadays. In front of his family, especially in those days, he showed an emotional side that he kept away from the public. He used to cry a lot.
“During those days, he used to cry a lot because of his weight problem. We used to tell him that he needed to lose some pounds. If he didn’t, he wouldn’t play football ever again. Sometimes, he would return from practice in tears,” said Leandro Becker, the newly minted Liverpool keeper’s uncle.
Becker saw up close how Alisson was born to play football. However, his initial stints on the pitch were away from the goalkeeping position.
“He tried out to be a winger with Internacional,” Leandro says. “However, it was a matter of a few matches. Let’s say that, during the first or second week, I can’t recall exactly, his coaches asked him to play as a keeper since he was taller than the rest of the goalies there.”
Alisson’s inspiration to become a goalie was already at home. His father used to play the position in pick-up matches with friends. His brother, Muriel, five years his senior, was already a strong presence in the Internacional system. Alisson’s first taste of the red was when he saw his brother train at the pitches then located next to the Beira-Rio Stadium.
“I had the chance of meeting Alisson before he started to play,” recalls Daniel Pavan, goalkeeper coach at Internacional and credited by Alisson himself as the person who discovered his talents. “He used to join Muriel at his practices. Then, someone used to hand him a football, so he could play and have some fun. Then, he started to show a lot of interest in his brother’s position. The inspiration for Alisson to become a keeper was seeing his brother training.
“From the age of 10, he became a part of the Inter system. He already started to show technical skills which put him apart the rest of kids his age.”
Pavan, who also attempted to become a keeper when he was younger, joined Internacional in 1995, when he was just a student. He did not train Alisson during his first two years at Internacional; however, he was there alongside him since he turned 13 and was there with him at a crucial time in his surging career.
“He was quite chubby,” Pavan recalls. “It was a matter of genetics, combined with the fact he loved to eat. He loved to have a soft drink and a cookie. As soon as the training session was over, he already had one of each in his hands.
“At the same time, his development was a bit slower than usual. He was a bit shorter and chubbier. He wasn’t a starter or a first substitution, either. However, people could see he had technical abilities which made him stand out from the rest. Thanks to our department’s studies on him, we knew he was going to grow up and gain some height and, with that, he would become leaner.
“However, since his parents started to see that he did not play in the matches, they wanted to take him away from football. They thought he did not have a future as a player. They thought it was just a waste of time. Sometimes, in order to join some tournaments, he had to lose school time. That happened back when he was 12 years old and about to turn 13. They went and had a chat with me. They thought Alisson should dedicate himself to his academics, since they saw Alisson in here every day and they thought he was not having any benefits from it.”
To make things even worse, Alisson’s dad, Jose, was unemployed.
Jose worked at a shoe company, which went out of business. Since he was making a considerable financial effort in order to have his two children training in Porto Alegre every day, his money constraints reinforced the idea that maybe it was better to have his youngest son removed from football.
“Despite all that, I managed to convince [his parents] that things would get better, that Alisson would mature as a player and that he had a huge technical upside and potential,” Pavan says. “Thank god, they listened to me.
“Suddenly, it all came together. A year-and-a-half, about two years later, Alisson stretched out. He gained 16 centimetres in height and won his battle against the scale. He went on to become a starter at the base team, and then he joined the Brazilian national side at his age category. It was the start of a successful career.”
Because of Pavan’s involvement in such an important moment in Alisson’s life and in his role in the national team, both remain friends to this day. They exchange text messages and words of encouragement and root for each other’s success.
Nowadays, Pavan, Antonia and Leandro are all proud to see that the short, chubby kid from Novo Hamburgo, who used to cry a lot, is now the first name mentioned whenever the Selecao play. They hope that, one day, he will return with a World Cup for Brazil in his hands.