Liverpool's Alisson considered hanging up gloves at age 15

August 8, 2018

SAO PAULO (AP) — A decade before becoming soccer's most expensive goalkeeper, Alisson was contemplating hanging up his gloves.

A chubby teenager in the shadows of older brother Muriel at boyhood club Internacional in southern Brazil, Alisson was rarely selected for games and his self-confidence plummeted.

"His biological maturing was slower," Internacional goalkeeping coach Daniel Pavan told The Associated Press. "When he was 15 his parents came to say he was going to drop out. I insisted Alisson would grow soon, Muriel promised to help and there he is now."

Now he is at Liverpool after the English Premier League club struck a 72.5-million-euro (about $84 million) deal with Roma to sign the 25-year-old Alisson last month.

"In the academy teams he often didn't make to the bench, he was constantly overlooked even though we knew he had talent," said Pavan, who coached the goalkeeper from age 10 to 23. "He was a little chubby teenager."

After being convinced to keep going with his soccer career, Alisson grew six inches within a year. By 18, Alisson had shot up to 6-foot-4 and he emerged as a leader within Internacional's academy teams.

"We called him the iceman," Pavan said. "He was always ready."

Alisson made his first-team debut in in February 2013 at the age of 20 but his big break came the following year. At the time, former AC Milan and World Cup-winning Brazil goalkeeper Dida used to start for Internacional, with Muriel as the backup. Then Dida was sent off and Muriel was injured and Alisson convinced struggling coach Abel Braga to start him against Fluminense. Alisson helped Internacional win 2-1.

"As soon as the match against Fluminense ended I knew we had a starting goalkeeper for years," Internacional executive Roberto Mello said. "Many thought Dida should return for the following match, but our coach decided to keep Alisson. It was hard to do it at first, but Alisson stayed there until he moved to Roma."

Alisson's fine form made his brother proud, despite Muriel losing his place in the team.

"I started playing for Inter before him and got some experience much before he did," said the 31-year-old Muriel, who currently plays in Portugal for Belenenses.

"Alisson matured quickly. He learned from what I experienced by living it all with me. Up to this day we always watch each other and at the end we chat to see what we can improve."

Two years after Dunga gave Alisson his Internacional debut, the coach was in a new job with the Brazil national team and ready to hand the goalkeeper his international debut in 2015.

The call-up was viewed as favoritism by Dunga among some pundits, but it soon proved justified.

As Alisson's form captured attention beyond Brazil, Roma signed him from Internacional in 2016 for 7.5 million euros to be Wojciech Szczesny's backup.

Alisson helped Roma reach the Champions League semifinals in April and, despite the Italian club losing to Liverpool, he was named in UEFA's squad of the season. When Liverpool goalkeeper Loris Karius blundered in the Champions League final to help Real Madrid win the title, coach Juergen Klopp knew where to turn in the transfer market.

"He is among the best goalkeepers in the world because he has skill, speed, cool and foot work," Muriel said. "At 25 years of age, he has already done great things and will develop further at Liverpool. His time in Italy will surely help him in the Premier League."

Alisson has also managed to maintain the affection of Internacional fans who saw him win two state championship titles. One day they hope he returns.

"I want him to come back as a Champions League and World Cup winner to give us some trophies too," said Internacional fan and marketing agent Kelly Cristina. "I also hope he stays good looking until then and doesn't go back to the old days," she said.