The man to replace Buffon? Brazil & beyond wake up to talents of Juventus target Alisson

PROFILE: The 23-year-old has enjoyed a meteoric rise in his two years as a professional and after becoming his country's No.1 could now be set for Serie A

As Brazil coach Dunga cleared his throat and shuffled his papers, dozens of Brazilians from around the world leaned in, praying to hear their names called.

Alisson Becker, meanwhile, was tucked up in his bed, getting some much-needed rest ahead of Internacional’s league clash with Fluminense, desperate to rid himself of the nightmare he’d endured days previously as bitter rivals Gremio lashed five goals past him.

He’d always dreamed of playing for Brazil, but hadn’t even considered a role with the senior side just yet. After starring for the U-20 team that won the Toulon Tournament, his ambitions were capped at making the under-23 side that will go in search of Olympic Gold in Rio next year.

 
The Rio Grande do Sul native was woken that August 13 afternoon by a phone call from his goalkeeping coach Daniel Pavan, who delivered the shock news that Alisson would be joining the senior squad for friendlies against Costa Rica and USA.

“It is a unique moment in my career,” he said. “In the one year of [first-team football], great things have happened. I feel very honoured.”

He had to make do with a place on the bench as Marcelo Grohe replaced former mainstay Jefferson in the Brazil goal, but Alisson’s chance came in October when Jefferson was once again dropped following the Selecao’s 2-0 World Cup qualifying defeat to Chile.

Alisson came into the side for the 3-1 victory over Venezuela and did enough to convince Dunga to keep faith with him for last month’s qualifiers with Argentina and Peru.

The four months since Alisson’s surprise call-up have seen his Brazil career climb to dizzying heights, and his club career looks set for an equally meteoric rise following his revelation that Juventus and Roma are desperate to take him to Europe as early as the January transfer window.

“I’ve had offers,” he admitted. “Interest from Juventus and Roma is well known, but Internacional still want to renew my contract.”

The Porto Alegre club’s chances of doing so were handed a blow last weekend as Sao Paulo pipped them to the final Copa Libertadores qualification spot in the Brazilian first division.

It was Alisson’s performances in that competition that had convinced Dunga that the man he’d handed a debut to during an ill-fated stint on the Inter bench in 2013 was ready for the big time, and Inter’s failure to qualify for next year’s competition leaves Alisson with little reason to stick around until June.

Moreover, with his contract set to expire next year, the club may well elect to cash in while they still have some leverage in any potential transfer.

"He's a player with great reflexes, a really dynamic goalkeeper,” said Dunga.

Alisson’s strongest attribute is his shot-stopping, illustrated by his 83 saves he made to ensure he kept 14 clean sheets in 26 Brasileirao matches this term, helping his side to the joint-fourth best defensive record in the league.

Standing at 6ft 4in, he has tended to flap a little when confronted with crosses into his box and caused mild alarm among his Brazil colleagues in the early stages of his debut against Venezuela. But he has made just one fumble on the 37 high balls he attempted to catch for Inter this season.

Distribution from the back has become a concern for Dunga in recent months, with Jefferson’s high profile error against Peru in the Copa America a major reason behind his omission from the side, and that too is something that Alisson will want to improve as he continues to develop. 

But both are areas of his game he’s worked hard on improving, particularly with Brazil goalkeeping coach Taffarel, who Alisson admits is his idol.

“Working with Taffarel is inspirational for every goalkeeper,” Alisson said. “I always said he is a reference for me both on and off the field”



A World Cup-winner in 1994, Taffarel himself enjoyed a productive time in Serie A during his playing days - starring for Parma and Reggiana - and with interest from the peninsula intensifying, Alisson will no doubt be asking for advice from the man who is fast becoming something of a mentor to him.

And the teacher has been equally impressed by his new student. “There was a change in goal because Alisson has been impressing in training,” Taffarel said. “He has a very strong personality, I think that is his best attribute and it’s been a privilege working with him.”

That Alisson is being considered as a potential long-term replacement for the great Gianluigi Buffon will be yet another great source of pride for the 23-year-old, who has enjoyed less than two years as a first-team professional.

And as his stock continues to rise, make no mistake: Alisson Ramses Becker won’t be catching 40 winks when Dunga sits down to name his squad for March’s World Cup qualifiers – and the rest of the world is now wide awake to his talents, too.