Roberto Firmino wasn’t the first, and certainly won’t be the last player to give a team-mate a confidence boost by citing them as the world’s best, but it was interesting to hear the Brazilian call Alisson Becker the world’s best goalkeeper last week. In an interview with FIFA.com, Firmino said: “For me, he’s the number one. I am not just saying that because he is my team-mate. The things he does on the pitch are incredible.”.
Some Liverpool fans would automatically agree with Firmino, whereas others might take a more objective view. Others, perhaps with that Loris Karius howler vs Real Madrid in the Champions League Final still fresh in their minds, might not care at all about Alisson’s standing – they will just be happy that Liverpool have a safe pair of gloves between the sticks. But it is intriguing to muse on Alisson’s status, even if there is no definitive answer beyond some subjective opinions.
First of all, let’s look at who he is up against. Manuel Neuer immediately springs to mind. The German stopper was widely regarded as the world’s best goalie for much of the 2010s, and he obviously has had a great year with treble winners, Bayern Munich. Others like Marc Andre Ter Stegen, Jan Oblak, Ederson and Thibaut Courtois are also up there, and you could also make an argument for Keylor Navas. Had it been a couple of years ago, David De Gea would certainly be up there, but the Spaniard isn’t the player he once was.
Neuer and Alisson Out On Their Own
At the moment, you would have to put Alisson and Neuer in a tier ahead of the rest. That’s a reflection of their qualities, but also the dominance of their two club sides. While that second factor might not seem important when discussing the best goalkeeper, it does have significance, and it’s an important part of the discussion around Alisson.
The point we are trying to make is that the modern goalkeeper is tasked with more than shot-stopping. Alisson is a great reader of the game, and he snuffs out danger before it becomes critical. He isn’t a ‘highlights reel’ goalkeeper like De Gea because his speed, positioning and awareness help limit the number of dangerous shots he will face. His authority in the box is reminiscent of Peter Schmeichel, albeit he pulls it off a bit more subtlety.
Alisson’s Calmness Filters Through To Defence
But Alisson – and Neuer too – has that calmness needed to facilitate playing out from the back at speed. Again, if you watch someone like De Gea [we aren’t picking on him] try to do it at Manchester United, it’s awkward and unsettling for the defence. Virgil van Dijk, Trent Alexander-Arnold and the rest don’t have that issue, and that lets them take up positions to facilitate the attack. Bayern’s transitions from defence to attack aren’t exactly like Liverpool’s, but Neuer also lends that bit of confidence to the defenders.
Those factors count for the modern goalkeeper. Great keepers in the recent past – Schmeichel, Oliver Kahn, Van Der Sar – were able to marshal a defence, dominate the box, make great saves, etc., but they lacked the extra dimension that Neuer and Alisson possess.
So, who is the best between the pair? Well, last year Alisson himself told us that he believed Neuer was still the word’s top goalkeeper. But he was also quick to point out that Neuer was experienced, whereas he was “just starting”. If this is where the Brazilian is at when he is just starting, then Liverpool fans should be happy indeed.