Liverpool currently have one of the best goalkeepers in world football on their books in Brazil international shot-stopper Alisson.
The 28-year-old has been named in the FIFA World XI in each of the last two years, along with winning the Premier League Golden Glove in 2019. This shows that he is, arguably, the best goalkeeper in the world – or at least was in 2019 and 2020.
One of the influences behind Alisson’s success at Anfield has been Liverpool goalkeeping coach John Achterberg, who joined the club in 2009 to work with the academy goalkeepers before being promoted to first-team goalkeeper coach in 2011, a role he has held for coming up to a decade this summer.
Achterberg has taken the time to exclusively speak with Anfield Watch about a variety of topics, ranging from improving Alisson to the progress of Caoimhin Kelleher this season.
The full transcript of the Q&A we had with him is below:
WHO HAS BEEN YOUR FAVOURITE GOALKEEPER TO COACH AT LIVERPOOL?
I don’t have a favourite goalie to coach to be honest, because it is enjoyable with all of the goalies you work with. You want to help them, you want to make good sessions, and try to improve them by doing the sessions and if they give you everything they have every single day it is always an exciting training.
WHAT HAVE YOU MADE OF KELLEHER’S PROGRESS THIS SEASON?
Since he’s come into the club, he has improved loads and he actually becomes more of a man. Before, he was still a young boy and now he has really matured and everything is progress (for Kelleher). Over the last few years, I think four years, he has been training with the first-team.
The boys in the academy did a lot of work with him before that and they made a good competition with (Kamil) Grabara and Caoimhin (Kelleher) and he shows all the stuff we are looking for in a goalkeeper; speed, reactions, being calm under pressure, like Ali shows as well. Then he (Kelleher) got his chance and, obviously in training he shows that every day, so it is up to him to take it and that is what he did. Of course, it’s great and we want that for every goalkeeper that we work with – to make good progress in the end to a great career and, obviously, we keep following the goalies who did because some stay and some move on when the time is right to move on.
HAS IT BEEN DIFFICULT TO IMPROVE ALISSON FURTHER?
Listen, Ali is a top goalie and he is really good and he has a lot of speed and power and can make unbelievable reaction saves. The main thing is that you try to help him in training to keep fit and if there are small things to work on we will make sessions to help that. Ali is a smart guy, so if something goes wrong he knows (about) it and we can try and work and improve it in training.
That is how we work every day. We try to work in training on what happens in the upcoming opponents, how the opponent is playing. If they are making passes between the lines in the box then we will be making sessions to react off the shots they are likely to produce in the game. If they are making more one versus one situations, we would train on more one versus one situations, so it all depends on who we play and how we train and next to that we try to improve the speed, the power, and the reactions and we try to keep him fit.
.@1JohnAchterberg talks to Anfield Watch exclusively on Alisson Becker:
"Ali is a top goalie, he has a lot of speed and power and can make unbelievable reaction saves. Ali is a smart guy – if something goes wrong he knows it and we try to improve it in training." 🔴 pic.twitter.com/y6gCAVcyEW
— Anfield Watch (@AnfieldWatch) April 1, 2021
ARE THEY ANY FORMER LIVERPOOL GOALKEEPERS YOU WISH YOU HAD THE CHANCE TO COACH?
I’m not looking (back) like that. I enjoy working with everyone who I have in front of me, so those are the ones I can work with and that’s what I enjoy. Like I said before, I enjoy (working) with everyone I’ve worked with, so there is no particular favourite. I have never looked back and thought ‘oh I would have loved to have worked with him’ you know, it goes how it goes and you work with what you have.
HAVE YOU HAD TO ADAPT TO THE EXTRA FOOTWORK IN GOALKEEPING IN THE MODERN GAME?
Not really because I am, obviously, Dutch. In Holland, we work on a lot of technical and tactical things for the game. When I was growing up I was more like a more modern goalie to try to play a high line, cover every space inside and outside of the box, ball goes over the top and I like to sweep up, coming for crosses and making saves. In Holland, you are expected to play with the feet, so that was already there and the only thing I tried to adapt in my coaching philosophy is to adapt to the speed of the game in England.
The game in England is a lot faster, so that means the goalie needs to make quicker decisions and quicker execution and making the right solution at the right time. That’s why we try to work on that in training and that’s why when they are playing with the feet they have to make quicker touches and quicker solutions on the passing. Of course, you’re working on improving left foot and right foot when you’re practicing kicking.
They do this in their position in games and in training where the player run at them at full speed so they have to make those decisions. That is always how I have been working and how my philosophy is – making and creating goalkeepers who play on the front foot, who read balls over the top, who come for crosses and can make saves, so it is the full package. That is how we have always been taught in Holland and that is how we also scout as we try to find those kind of goalies who can do that. Some we try to improve with things that are not so good and some have it natural, so that is how it works.
HAVE YOU BEEN IMPRESSED BY PITALUGA AND DAVIES THIS SEASON?
We have Jakub (Ojrzynski), Harvey (Davies) and Marcelo (Pitaluga). I saw Marcelo in the under-17 Brazil squad for the World Cup and he was a year younger, so then I looked at his physical stats and tried to find games and look at games and when I thought it was half-good I let other people look at it as well to see how they saw it. You then need to convince the club to see if they could bring him in and that’s what happened.
Harvey has been signed since we had a trialist day for under-10’s. Me and Ian Barrigan were looking around and I said ‘yeah he looks in a good shape, I can improve him’ and then all the coaches in the academy have worked really well with him to develop (him). Jakub Ojrzynski came in as well so we have a few goalies where we try to work and improve. With Harvey, we’ve had a few weeks working with the first-team because Marcelo got injured in a game so we gave Harvey the chance to come up a little bit more and show what he can (do) and he’s been progressing really well.
Then it’s Marcelo and Jakub and obviously Marcelo is a bit out for (the rest of) this season with a thigh injury, so he can improve in the gym with other things that can be improved on. Improving the joint strength and everything, so on that side it is good and we always try to have young goalkeepers and improve; Danny Ward we had, (Peter) Gulasci we had, and Kamil (Grabara) who is playing in Denmark. We always have young goalies trying to improve and we make them a good career in the end. That’s what you try to do, and I probably missed probably a few more goalies who made the road in professional football already.
HAS IT BEEN DIFFICULT TO KEEP MORALE UP DURING AN INJURY CRISIS?
Of course, if we get injuries it is frustrating. Every position and every player, we want to keep everyone fit with the whole club and thing can happen. Some got injured by heavy challenges and some got injured in games with muscle injuries. It is difficult but that is part of football and you have to deal with it and try to deal with it as good as we can and that’s what we do and we try to be as positive with it. If someone is injured it gives another one a chance to show what he can do and hopefully the guy that gets the chances takes the chances, that’s how it works.
DO YOU EXPECT ADRIAN TO STAY AT THE CLUB?
There is no decision made on that. We need three goalies, three good goalkeepers. It is in the hands with Michael Edwards and also Adrian, who have to discuss that together with the club to decide what will be next and that is not for me to discuss with anyone. The main thing is we need three good goalies and, at the moment, Adrian is one of the three with Caoimhin and Ali and then we also like to have young goalies who can improve, so that’s how we work.
WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR FAVOURITE SAVE THIS SEASON?
It’s difficult to say this kind of thing, what your favourite saves are, (because) the thing is every save is important and it doesn’t matter if it is in a big game or a small game because bigger games may get more highlights but in a small game if you make a match-winning save in the game to help your team win 1-0 it’s as important as, obviously Ali’s save, for instance, in the Napoli game – that was massive in the end to (help) get to the final and this kind of moment we hope for every game.
That’s what you work for, to make saves every game, to keep the team in the game and to win the game, if it’s the defending of the goal has already started up front with the strikers and we do that as a team because if the team defends well in front it is easier for the goalie to make saves too. I never saw it as a favourite save, it’s every save is important for us to win games.
HOW HAS JURGEN KLOPP MANAGED THE MOOD IN THE CAMP THIS SEASON?
The boss is unbelievable the way he deals with all this and tries to motivate the players and the team. We have missed the supporters, I think, in the stadium because they give us a big help on the games. But, yeah, the boss is always positive and tries to lift everyone’s spirits and deals with all the situations he has to deal with and that’s not always easy but we all work hard for it and try to be positive and the boss is the main factor in the club to keep that all together and try to make the progress happen! All the coaches around him, we try to be the same; to be positive in training with the boys and keep battling on with the situations that happen. We cannot control all things, but what we can control is to try to be positive and to try to get a win in the next game again.
We’d like to thank John for his time and you can find him on Twitter @1JohnAchterberg if you would like to follow him on socials!
I’m a 22-year-old football writer from Lowestoft. I produce, edit, and publish articles for Anfield Watch full-time.