If one were to list the best goalkeepers in the world currently, several names would be thrown into the hat. One man at the top of many lists is the Brazilian and Liverpool shot-stopper, Alisson Becker. However, if several key events in the past happened differently, Becker’s career as well as the whole world of football could have looked very different today.
Alisson Becker started his career in the Brazilian Serie A with Internacional. Over the course of three seasons, he eventually established himself as the club’s number one keeper, winning the top-flight title three times. Becker’s strong performances earned him his first call up to the Brazilian National Team as well as a contract with Roma in Italy, set to begin in the summer of 2016.
Despite being a young player, Becker became Brazil’s starting goalkeeper after a string of disappointing performances saw the veteran Jefferson dropped by Dunga. Becker went on to play all three matches for Brazil in the 2016 Copa America Centenario where Brazil was embarrassingly eliminated in the group stage. Dunga was then sacked and replaced by Tite, who still stuck with Becker as the Brazilian number one.
In line with his contract, Becker officially left Internacional for Roma in the summer of 2016. At first, he was the deputy to Roma’s main goalkeeper, Wojciech Szczesny, and thus spent most of the season on the bench. Szczesny left the next season, however, leaving Becker as the number one. It was the 2017/18 season where Alisson announced himself to the world stage.
Following a masterclass performance against Atletico Madrid where Becker made a series of fantastic saves to ensure a clean sheet, he was instantly put on the radar for the world’s best keepers. This was also a year to remember for Roma fans, as they went on a heroic run to the Champions League semifinals, as well as also finishing third in Serie A, with Becker playing a major part in their success.
After the season, he was awarded the Serie A goalkeeper of the season trophy as well as being included in both the Serie A and Champions League squad of the season. Due to his great form, he was able to keep his spot as Brazilian number one through the 2018 World Cup, holding off Brazil’s other world-class shot-stopper, Ederson of Manchester City.
After the 2018 Champions League Final ended in a 3-1 loss to Liverpool, largely in part to goalkeeper Loris Karius, Liverpool knew the only thing they needed to bridge the gap between them and Europe’s elite was an elite goalie. So that summer, Liverpool signed Becker. His debut season was possibly his best season to date, keeping over 21 clean sheets and winning the Premier League Golden Glove as Liverpool finished in an ever-so-close second place behind Manchester City. Alisson saved his most famous performances for the Champions League, however, as he was absolutely pivotal in Liverpool’s dominant victory, winning him his first-ever Champions League trophy as well as the Goalkeeper of the Season award in that tournament.
That summer, Brazil hosted the 2019 Copa America and ended up as dominant champions as well, with Becker being one of the best players in the tournament. Between the sticks, he kept five consecutive clean sheets and only conceded one goal the entire tournament, which was a penalty in the final. Alisson ended the Copa America by winning the Golden Glove award and as a champion of South America.
2019 was an individually great year for Alisson as he was included in FIFPro World11, won both the Best FIFA Goalkeeper and the inaugural Yashin Trophy while also finishing seventh in Ballon d’Or rankings.
In the current season, Becker has not been able to reach the heights of the previous one, but that is only due to several injury problems he has had throughout the past half-year. Even amongst the injuries, Becker was still able to win the 2019 Club World Cup with Liverpool as well as Liverpool’s first-ever Premier League title since the beginning of the EPL era.
However, all these years of success for Alisson Becker and all the teams he played for could have ended up very differently had a particular referee decision gone the other way.
On June 4, 2016, Brazil kicked off the Copa America Centenario with their first match against Ecuador. In a tightly contested match, neither side could break the deadlock. However, in the 66th minute, Miller Bolanos was played the ball out on the wing and drove into the Brazilian penalty area. His touch was heavy, and as he brought the ball far too close to the touchline he shanked his cross and sent it towards goal instead of cutting it back to his teammates in the box.
Possibly caught off guard by the skewed cross, Becker attempted to collect the ball, but with his palms open, the ball ricocheted off his hands, up his arm and into the back of the net, leaving him to hang his head in shame. But apparently, God was wearing a Brazil jersey that night as the referees disallowed the goal saying the ball went out of play before it was crossed in, saving both Becker and Brazil their blushes. However, in an era before VAR (Video Assistant Referee), the replays later showed that the ball had only partially crossed the line, and therefore the goal should have stood.
Given the apparent referee mistake, the match ended 0-0. Brazil ended up losing to Peru in their last group stage game and were eliminated in the group stage. Since Becker’s blunder was chalked off, it received minimal media attention. But had it stood, Becker’s career could have gone upside down in a matter of minutes. Brazil would have lost to Ecuador, and the media, especially the harsh Brazilian press, would have put Becker to the sword. His fumble would’ve been thrown across all social media and been the highlight mistake in YouTube compilations. Brazil still would have been eliminated in the group stage regardless, making the situation even worse. In the end, this probably would have been Becker’s last match in a Brazilian shirt.
From there on, Dunga still would have been sacked and Tite would’ve been hired as well. But due to the media backlash, Becker would not be called up. Becker’s career at Roma would have been cut short as well. Despite agreeing to come to Roma before the summer, Roma would have been less confident in Becker’s abilities and probably would not have sold Szczesny. Becker himself said that in the 2016/17 season, he debated leaving Italy due to a lack of game time. If Roma stuck with Szczesny as their number one, Alisson would’ve definitely left, with a return to the Brazilian Serie A his likely destination.
Without Becker, Roma’s 2017/18 season would not have gone as successfully as it did. That season in the Champions League, Roma was relatively poor away from home, heavily relying on a strong defensive performance and heroics from Becker to keep clean sheets at the Stadio Olimpico against the likes of Atletico Madrid, Chelsea, Shakhtar Donetsk, Barcelona and several others. In fact, until the semifinals against Liverpool, Roma conceded zero goals at home in the Champions League. But without Becker, the net would not have been so impervious, and Roma would most likely have been eliminated in the group stage.
Luckily for the Brazilian national team, they were blessed with two world-class keepers in both Becker and Ederson. If Becker had been out of the picture, Ederson, who is stylistically very similar, would fill his gap. Brazil’s 2018 World Cup run and 2019 Copa America victory would have occurred without change.
Liverpool, on the other hand, would not have been so lucky. For at least the past decade, Liverpool has been a team that struggles with goalkeeper problems; an issue that persists to this day whenever Becker doesn’t play. Throughout the 2018/19 Champions League season, there have been numerous occasions where Becker saved Liverpool’s entire campaign, making saves arguably only he could.
Becker’s most crucial save, possibly in his entire Liverpool career up until now, came against Napoli. Liverpool had been drawn in a very tough group with PSG, Napoli and Red Star Belgrade, and due to some questionable results needed to beat Napoli to avoid first-round elimination.
On the final matchday of the group stage, Liverpool welcomed Napoli to Anfield. In a match where Liverpool dominated but did not convert most of their chances, the Reds were slightly ahead with a close 1-0 lead. In the dying embers of the match, a defensive mistake by Liverpool’s backline left Napoli’s Arkadiusz Milik one-on-one with Becker. With a sprawling save and split-second reaction time, Becker blocked Milik’s shot with his legs saving his entire team. If Becker had not been there to make that save, Liverpool wouldn’t even had gotten out of the group stages let alone won the tournament.
Later in that same competition, Becker continued to stand up for Liverpool when they needed him most. Most crucially, he made several key saves against Barcelona as Liverpool made their historic 4-0 comeback at Anfield; the most important of which came in the second half when Becker got to ground quickly and saved a low shot from Luis Suarez with his right hand. Had Becker not been there to make that fast-reaction save, Barcelona would have tied the score 1-1 with a 4-1 aggregate score, and Liverpool’s famous comeback would have been impossible.
Later in the Champions League Final, Becker was arguably the best player on the field in the second half, working extremely hard to keep a clean sheet. Within the final 20 minutes of the match, Tottenham gained the upper foot and was really pressing Liverpool for an equalizer. Becker was forced into making save after save, the most impressive one being a curling freekick from Christian Eriksen that Becker palmed away to safety. Without him, Tottenham would have gone on to score an equalizer, and with the momentum in their favor, they could have been the ones crowned European champions of 2019 instead.
So overall, if the referee had given the goal to Ecuador all the way back in 2016, Becker’s career could have been ruined, stopping him from becoming one of the best goalkeepers in world football. And without Becker, Roma never would have made their memorable run in the 2018 Champions League and Liverpool would not have won that same competition the next year. Football is a strange sport, and Becker’s career as well as the success of Roma and Liverpool are evidence that sometimes, the smallest decisions can have the biggest impact.