Saturday 19 January 2019

Chris Bascombe: 'The era of Liverpool supporters watching their goalkeeper through their fingers may be over'

Liverpool's Alisson. Action Images via Reuters/Carl Recine
Liverpool's Alisson. Action Images via Reuters/Carl Recine

Chris Bascombe

“It was straight at him.”

Here is the more sceptical observation about Alisson Becker’s ‘life-saving’ contribution to Liverpool’s Champions League win against Napoli.

It is a line that can be delivered with a consignment of irony. That sentence ‘it was straight at him’ has been heard more frequently at Anfield over the last 30 years than ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’. Usually by 40,000 spectators who have just seen Liverpool surrender superiority and concede a last minute equaliser.

If you think a shot being ‘straight at him’ is any guarantee of a match defining save by a Liverpool goalkeeper,  you have not watched much football in the last 30 years.

Internet search engines will instantly supply the videos of Liverpool keepers unable to cope with this occupational hazard and career menace.

At first glance it did not always appear to be their fault.

Then halfway through the season, the Opta statisticians would supply a list showing horrific shot to goal ratios. A few months of Liverpool being linked with every keeper on the continent followed.

For balance, amid the deification of Liverpool’s current keeper it would be brutally unfair to say the club have not had any good number ones for three decades. When they first joined, both Jerzy Dudek and Pepe Reina excelled. For a variety of reasons their confidence sapped and the keepers who left the club were unrecognisable from those who joined.

Their decline was easy to identify because some lines are worth repeating. To be a great goalkeeper for Liverpool – or any elite club – you must master the art of doing very little, exceedingly well.

For a while both Dudek and Reina did this. Then they joined the ranks of Liverpool goalkeepers who having been spectators for 95 per cent of a game succumbing to those inevitable, final aerial bombardments.

Others have never coped with this weekly concentration exam on a consistent basis. Simon Mignolet has enjoyed many fine games for Liverpool, but not enough. When the good moments came – and there were plenty – they were lauded as exceptional. That was the problem - the exception, not the rule. He has never won the trust of his manager. 

Then there are the toils of Loris Karius. If he is no longer in therapy following his experience in last year’s Champions League final, he should spare a thought for those of Liverpool persuasion still getting over that performance.

Even during promising spells there was always a fear the next error was in the post – or to be more specific at the near post.

Go further back and Brad Friedel signed for Liverpool too early in his career, the nervous wreck at Anfield a distant relative of the class goalkeeper who excelled everywhere else.

David James was naturally brilliant but could not stop himself flapping at corners at the Anfield Road end, and while many are articulating Alisson is Liverpool’s best since Bruce Grobbelaar, even this most decorated goalkeeper was described as ‘erratic’ with good reason. Grobbelaar’s agility was as extraordinary as his medal haul, but he was error-prone in a world-class team and the recent sugar-coating and deflecting of later controversies in his career make for uneasy recollections.

The greatest Liverpool keeper – the man against which all others are and will be judged  - is unquestionably Ray Clemence. In his early months at the club, Alisson has brought a level of reassurance that evokes memories of Liverpool’s finest.

In this trending age, we must reiterate how early it is to judge. We should all reassemble in five or six years - assessing what this Liverpool team has won and how much Alisson has contributed – before stating with authority the Brazilian is Liverpool’s best since Clemence. However, we can say he has the potential to be.

When Alisson's name chimed from The Kop in the immediate aftermath of denying Napoli’s Arkadiusz Milik a certain equaliser, it was not about one, majestic save.

This was public recognition of a series of influential performances securing narrow wins.

Last night, Alisson underlined what has been so reassuring since the start of this season.

The era of Liverpool supporters watching their goalkeeper through their fingers may be over.

Telegraph.co.uk

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