Alisson Becker was, in some ways, indicative of Roma’s transfer approach during the Walter Sabatini days. When you can’t compete with the big boys, look to South America. While Roma did splash the cash on a few South American sensations—most notably Erik Lamela and Gerson—by and large, their trips to the Western Hemisphere produced more furrowed brows and head scratches than claps on the back. For every Lamela there was an Ivan Peris, for every Marquinhos a Nico Lopez, the ones who simply didn’t or couldn’t make the transition.
But there was this lovely little middle ground in which Sabatini wouldn’t necessarily unearth a future star but a potentially above average starter on the cheap, players like Leandro Castan. Whether they were Argentines, Brazilians or Paraguayans, Roma’s conquest of South America produced markedly different results.
So when Alisson Becker was purchased from Internacional for €7ish million, it came against that backdrop, one with alternating hues of elation and embarrassment—was he a Lamela or a Goicoechea? But Alisson was always a case unto himself; as the starter for the Brazilian national team, he wasn’t exactly unknown, but, I mean, who among us really knew what to expect from such a young keeper?
Perhaps that was Roma’s thinking when they extended Wojciech Szczesny’s loan for the 2016-2017 season; they knew intrinsically that Alisson was an intriguing prospect, but was he legit? Simply starting for Brazil doesn’t necessarily equate greatness, maybe they were just in a keeper dry spell. Whatever their logic, the gambit paid off—Szczesny was instrumental in Roma’s success last season—yet this seven million dollar kid with the resplendent beard demanded attention, and with Woj’s price tag soaring over €10 million (eventually reaching €16 million), Alisson almost became the number one by default. Still, we heard whispers of Salvatore Sirigu, Antonio Mirante and the ocassional Mattia Perin, so Roma were still hedging their bets in case Alisson proved an aberration.
Well, here we are seven weeks into the season and Alisson is one of, if not the best keepers in the league thus far. While WhoScored and Squawka both keep a lid on their proprietary player rating systems, each outlet has Alisson as Serie A’s top keeper through seven weeks, even with Roma’s extra game in hand. In fact, based on their performance score metric, Alisson is some 50 points clear of the next closest keeper based on Squakwa’s metrics. Keeper stats are subject to a host of other factors and are necessarily awkward to digest, but the proof is in the pudding, two of the most reputable names in the game hold Alisson, our very own Brazilian Don Draper, in high esteem.
Alisson has shown poise, good distribution from the back, markedly better positioning and cat-like reflexes, (and more reflexes)ones that belie his size and beard gerth. In only eight appearances (all comps), he’s bailed Roma out several times already, ensuring three points when Roma was playing anything but assured.
As Roma fans we have an uneasy peace with goalkeepers, something akin to having a shaky and/or combustible closer in baseball. Yeah, they’ll blow a few untimely saves, but once they crank up that fastball, watch out! From Doni to Stekelenburg to Morgan De Sanctis, Roma had decent keepers, but never a great one; they made great and sometimes miraculous saves, but the hiccups outweighed these moments of excellence.
Through his two seasons with the club, Wojciech Szczesny transformed himself from a fill-in to legitimately one of the two or three best keepers in the league, and for once Roma didn’t have to worry from week to week if their keeper would, well, shit the bed. But since this is Roma we’re talking about, retaining him wasn’t really in the cards, at least not once Juventus entered the bidding.
So that uneasy peace suddenly became fraught with anxiety. Yeah, Alisson had the tools and seemed like a lively presence back there, but a few Europa League appearances does not a starter make. With the so much talent in other areas of the pitch and with the club so close to contention, would they once again be done in by shaky hands at the back?
Well, through the first seven weeks of the season, it’s safe to say that question has been answered convincingly. Alisson Ramses Becker, a/k/a Alisson, a/k/a Brazilian Don Draper, a/k/a the BDD is simply one of the best in the game—he has the size, the command of the box, the reflexes and the judgement to do it all—and at only 24-years-old, the sky is the limit.