Ramses

19th November 2018

“If you ever find yourself near Ramses, Get down on your knees,” Pharaoh Story, Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat,

First Published by The Anfield Wrap, November 14, 2018

Liverpool Supporters may well be feeling that, after a start to the Premier League season that has seen them concede only 5 goals a little prayer of thanks is in order to our new goalkeeper. Alison Ramses Becker has certainly become a significant part of Liverpool’s much improved defence in 2018.

It was always going to take a lot to dislodge Pepe Reina from his lofty perch as my all-time favourite Liverpool goalkeeper but Alisson Becker has made a pretty good start in that regard.

Pepe Reina was to my mind the best Liverpool goalkeeper of the modern era by a country mile. From the moment he arrived I felt that Liverpool had a ‘keeper worthy of following in the footsteps of Lawrence, Clemence and Grobbelaar. I would regularly get to my seat for home games in time to watch his warm-up, a sort of renewal of vows if you like to remind me how good he was, how safe I felt with him in goal for the Reds.

Pepe had it all, dominating the box, a commanding voice marshalling his defence and that wonderful distribution. Capable of turning defence into attack in the blink of an eye. How he would have loved the opening goal against Fulham.  

Of course, Pepe made errors over his 9 years and 285 games at Anfield but those mistakes were few and far between and were far outweighed by all the positives. I always felt that Reina made the defenders better, something for which he, like many other goalkeepers, do not get the full credit they deserve. That’s not to detract from those who played in front of him in any way but a recognition that defending is an intriguing mixture of personal ability and collectiveness.  

The opening goal against Fulham on Sunday was perhaps the moment when in my mind I was ready to move on, reluctantly to accept Pepe Reina is now a part of Liverpool’s storied past. When you watch it back, a couple of the 14 seconds between Fulham’s offside “goal” and Salah’s opener were actually spent with Alisson screaming and gesticulating at his defence before he took the free-kick and released Trent. Pepe Reina would have been so very proud.

I don’t think Alisson is anywhere near the complete answer for Liverpool yet, like Naby Keita and Fabinho we need to allow time for the acclimatisation to be completed, for the adjustment to English football to fully take place.

But there is one area where, without doubt Alisson has made a contribution already. The improvement in the Liverpool defence. There is no doubt in my mind that Virgil van Dijk has this season become one of the best defenders in the world, and similarly no doubt that Joe Gomez’s progression as a central defender has been nothing short of meteoric. And while both take a considerable amount of credit there is no doubt in my mind that Alisson has been a significant contributory factor to both.

Context is everything when making a subjective judgement it informs opinion based on acquired experience. And subjective judgements are very relevant when talking about Liverpool goalkeepers. Alisson has benefitted substantially in this regard in that he is the successor to the Mignolet / Karius co-catastrophe. There is a pretty strong argument that the bar was set pretty low by his predecessors but that should not detract from the Brazillian’s first three months at Anfield.  

The immediate post-Reina era was one that I struggled to come to terms with. I never warmed to Mignolet, was always on the negative side in any debate about him and will freely admit that my confirmation bias was so engaged that I found it incapable to see good in pretty much anything he did. 

He was and never will be forgiven in my mind for being the man who displaced Pepe. There is no doubt in my mind that Mignolet was not the solution to a Reina who was considered by many to be in decline and I don’t believe Brendan Rodgers thought that for one minute when he engineered Reina’s exit. Without wishing to be revisionist I think it fair to say that the outcome in 13/14 could have been better if Rogers had kept the faith. Reina has continued to perform at the highest level in Europe and is, in my view still a better ‘keeper than the Belgian. 

I think there is a strong argument to say goalkeepers define managers. Reina represented Rafa’s solidity and insistence on a team’s solid spine. Schmeichel the bombast and arrogance of Ferguson and Ederson, the “total football” of Pep Guardiola. You could even argue that Mignolet represented Rodgers approach of you score three, we will score four. But that was surely not by design!

If my theory is true then Alisson Ramses Becker is the epitome of Jürgen Klopp, larger than life, charismatic but supremely self-confident.  The man who Klopp can build the sort of solidity his Dortmund team became renowned for. But perhaps Alisson’s most telling achievement to date is that he has shifted the narrative among the media, the footballing world and Liverpool’s fanbase. Almost imperceptibly at first the debate about the Liverpool defence on general and the goalkeeper in particular has ceased. 

Liverpool fans have every right to rest more comfortably that their last line of defence is once more in safe hands.