Alisson Becker: The Irreplaceable Jigsaw Piece in Liverpool's Record-Breaking Puzzle

Max Cooper

When Alisson Becker joined AS Roma in 2016, there was very little fanfare. A €7.5m arrival from Internacional is nothing really worth writing home about, after all. In fact, we've seen this type of transfer a thousand times.

A young, talented Brazilian star arrives in Europe, hoping to adapt to the demands of a higher tempo and high pressure style of football. Many wonderkids of the Brazilian game have failed to cut it when leaving South America, and are forced to return to their home country to recapture their form.

So, very few Giallorossi fans would have been eagerly waiting at Fiumicino Airport to welcome Alisson to Rome four years ago. And anyway, why would they? The capital city club already possessed - albeit on loan - one of the best goalkeepers in the league in Wojciech Szczęsny.

The Polish international was heading into his second season at the Stadio Olimpico, steadily rebuilding his career after a haphazard end to his time at Arsenal. In fact, Szczęsny's own rise was so impressive that Alisson didn't even make a league appearance during the 2016/17 campaign.

But behind the scenes, something was bubbling away. Glimpses of his ability in the Europa League and his relentless, rapid growth in training were all signs of a man adjusting to his new life with ease.

Mentally, Alisson was ready. So it came to pass, when Szczęsny left I Giallorossi in the summer of 2017, swapping Rome for Turin, and the high powers within Roma had a decision to make. Bring in a new number one, or throw their Brazilian shot-stopper into the deep end?

Szczesny was Roma's number one keeper for two years
Szczesny was Roma's number one keeper for two years / Chris Brunskill Ltd/Getty Images

New coach Eusebio Di Francesco had heard and seen enough of the young goalkeeper's undeniable qualities, and with that, Alisson was chucked in without his armbands. As we all now know though, he swam. In fact, he walked on bloody water.

Any immediate fears over the debuting keeper's abilities were quashed on his first league start, when Roma travelled to Atalanta, kept a clean sheet, and won 1-0. La Dea managed 11 shots on target during their avalanche upon the Giallorossi goal, but they couldn't find a way past Serie A's new brick wall.

Roma started the 2017/18 season strongly, keeping seven clean sheets in their opening 10 matches, conceding only five goals (with three of those coming against giants Inter). Behind their new-found defensive core, was Alisson.

The first thing you noticed when peering at the Roma man, was just how enormous and intimidating he looked between the posts. The next, when witnessing him in action, was his imperious command of the six-yard box, the penalty area, and his obedient protectors.

Alisson was so quick off the mark, often diving fearlessly at the feet of onrushing attackers, and covering the entirety of his goal-line with an outstretched limb. His calmness on the ball, his distribution, and his overall aura was one of a seasoned professional, not a young lad entering the fray of European football for the first time.

Not only that, but he was spectacularly unspectacular. There were no theatrical dives for the cameras - in fact, he made complicated saves look incredibly simple, and he caught so many shots that his colleagues could just about parry, that his highlight reels may appear rather banal to the average viewer.

While his domestic displays were impeccable, it was in Europe where he really caught the eye. Roma topped a Champions League group including Chelsea and Atletico Madrid with ease, and the big Brazilian later kept Roma in the Round of 16 first-leg tie with Shakhtar Donetsk, delivering a standout performance.

He then kept another clean sheet at home to Barcelona in the quarter-finals, blunting the usually lethal Lionel Messi, as I Giallorossi completed an unthinkable comeback from three goals down from their trip to Camp Nou.

Next up, Liverpool. This one proved to be a bridge too far for Alisson and Roma, who conceded seven over the two legs, losing by a single goal on aggregate. Not the greatest of auditions then, for a man widely tipped for a move away from Rome in the summer of 2018.

But what was for sure, was that he had outgrown Roma and their ambitions - and the Reds saw Alisson as the missing piece to their jigsaw.

€70m for a goalkeeper is a mighty gamble (just ask Chelsea and Kepa Arrizabalaga), especially for a goalkeeper with one season of experience at the top. On this occasion though, it paid off spectacularly.

So much so, that his only career defeat at Anfield remains the 5-2 loss he suffered as Roma goalkeeper back in 2018. Astonishing.

Two seasons later, and Alisson's reputation as the cream of the crop in modern day football continues to grow. He won the Champions League in his first season at Anfield, delivering show-stopping performances throughout the campaign.

His last-gasp save from Napoli's Arek Milik kept Liverpool in the competition in the final group stage match, throwing himself in the way of a goal-bound effort from the edge of the six-yard box. This was only bettered by his display against Barça in the famous semi-final, thwarting la Blaugrana once again with a sensational string of saves, as the Reds ran out 4-0 winners. Without him, there would be no Champions League trophy.

Without that trophy, the Premier League glory may not have followed, either. Hungry for revenge after amassing 97 points and still finishing behind Manchester City, Jurgen Klopp's men romped to success in 2020, winning their first league title in 30 years at a canter.

One of the Reds' iconic moments from the season came in their victory over Manchester United, when, leading by a single goal, Alisson collected the ball to relieve the pressure on his defence. However, in the blink of an eye, the 27-year-old had seen the chance to end the contest - and executed it, too.

Slicing the ball over the halfway line into the path of Mohamed Salah, the forward raced onto his inch-perfect clearance, and rolled a calm finish beyond David de Gea and into the net. The Kop erupted. Now they believed the league trophy was coming home. Amid all the release of emotion, one man reached the Egyptian superstar before everyone else.

You guessed it.

Alisson raced past every teammate, charged towards Salah and pulled off a terrific knee-slide, before embracing his ex-Roma colleague. A memorable moment.

From defence to attack, this Liverpool team has the lot. But none of it could function without their talisman between the sticks.

Alisson is a lynchpin in this Liverpool team
Alisson is a lynchpin in this Liverpool team / PAUL ELLIS/Getty Images

For a goalkeeper to have such an impact on a side is unusual, but all the evidence points to him being the key to this team. Lose an influential midfielder like Fabinho, and you can work around it. Lose a top forward - or two, as in Salah and Roberto Firmino's case against Barça - and there are replacements ready to prove their worth.

But Alisson is unique. He is literally one of a handful of names considered to be the elite in their position, and without him, Liverpool are a different side. Not only is it his physical ability between the sticks which makes him so daunting, but his calming effect on the defenders ahead of him, who know the most reliable head in the game is mopping up behind them.

His presence intimidates strikers, and his giant frame motivates even the world's best to try and hit the corner that little bit more accurately, in turn causing them to miss the target or fluff their lines.

Alisson has only been on the scene for four years, and yet, he is already considered one of the greats in his role. He has turned Liverpool into record-breakers and history-makers, becoming the personification of calm, excellence and reliability in that time.

While Internacional and Roma fans look on in awe, with a combination of pride and bitterness, the Brazilian superstar continues reaching new heights, and smashing through every glass ceiling that is placed above him.

He is more than just a goalkeeper. Alisson is a bonafide legend in the making.