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This Is For My Brother

Jul 2 2018
Jul 2 2018

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T

his will tell you everything you need to know about my family in one quick story.

World Cup. 1998. I’m 5 years old. My brother Muriel is 10. We’re watching the Brazil vs. Holland semifinal at my aunt’s house, and of course it’s a big party. My aunt had made all this food, and there was a big cake and everything.

The game goes to the penalties, and my father and my uncle are going crazy. They can’t take the pressure. They can’t even sit down.

When Taffarel saves the final penalty, my father runs from the living room to the kitchen screaming his head off, and then what does he do?

… He smashes his face right into the cake. And then he runs back into the living room with icing all over his face, screaming, “We’re going to the Final! We’re going to the Final!”

As a little kid, it was the funniest thing I had ever seen.

My dad was crazy, in the best way.

Twenty years later, his son is going to the World Cup. And, if I am being honest, I am probably more like him than I would like to admit! If you’ve seen me play for Brazil or Roma, you might see me as a fairly calming presence. But I haven’t always been like that. In fact, if you had sent a scout to write a report about me as a kid, I suspect it would’ve looked something like this:

Alisson Becker: goalkeeper, seven years old.

Short. Angry. Cries often.

I know that probably doesn’t sound like the goalkeeper of the Brazilian national team, but it’s true. I have come quite a long way.

Actually, when I entered my teens, I wasn’t even the best goalkeeper in my family. Muriel was also a goalie, and man, he loved to push my buttons. He knew exactly what he had to do to make me lose my temper. I think all big brothers have this talent. But in a way, he also helped me learn how to control my emotions.

He’s the most important person in my story.

It was actually because of him that I ended up playing in goal. Some people say I was bound to be a goalie, and perhaps that’s true as well. I mean, my mother was a goalkeeper on her handball team at school. My great grandfather played goalie for an amateur football club in my hometown of Novo Hamburgo. And my father was a goalie for his company team. So maybe it was part of God’s plan for me, you know?

When I was five years old, my brother and I would go to watch my father play, and we saw how much he enjoyed it. To be honest, he was a bit crazy on the pitch, too — he’d always dive headfirst toward the striker’s feet to catch the ball. He had a really wild style. We both admired him, and his style is something we have inherited. I guess that’s how kids are, isn’t it? You see your father do something well, and you think, “I want to become like him.”

But the real reason I began in goal was my brother. I was playing with his friends, and they were all older and bigger than me. So when it came to picking teams … well, of course, the short kid had to go in goal. It wasn’t even up for discussion, you know?

But that was O.K., because I liked going in goal. Actually, I loved it.

Of course, at that point football was just about having fun — but then the 2002 World Cup in Japan and South Korea came around. My brother and I would wake up at dawn and stuff our faces with chocolate, cornflakes and sweet milk … and watch the games, of course. And when Brazil won it … I’ll never forget the feeling. It was like I had a revelation. I thought, This is what I’m gonna do. I’m gonna play for Brazil. I’m gonna go to the World Cup. And I’m gonna win it.

Sam Robles/The Players' Tribune

So I began to take football seriously. I’d guard the goal whenever we played on the streets in Novo Hamburgo. When our family moved from our apartment block and into a house, my brother and I would play 1-v-1 with a little plastic football. We would open up these doors to the living room and use them as our goal posts. Man, it was carnage! And so much fun. Maybe the best times in life.

By this stage I had started playing for the youth team at Internacional, in Porto Alegre. It’s one of the big clubs in Brazil, so I was clearly doing something right. But I did have one problem.

I was still a shorty.

You see, physically, I matured late, so all the goalkeepers at my age were taller and stronger than me. We had this maturation test that graded players from one to five. And when my teammates had reached stage five — I was still at stage two. And that’s no good for a goalkeeper, right? You gotta be tall, you gotta jump high, you gotta cover the goal.

In other words, the shorty wasn’t very good.

So I ended up being a reserve.

And then Internacional signed another goalkeeper from Palmeiras. And guess what … surprise, surprise! He was bigger and stronger than me, too. I just thought, Great, now I’m third choice. How the hell am I ever gonna play for Brazil like this?

I had serious doubts. Then came the Nike Cup — this huge competition for 14- and 15-year-olds. When my brother had played in it, he had been voted the best goalie at the tournament. He had the trophy in our house, and I used to look at it and say, “Man, I want one, too.”

But I didn’t even play. And honestly, I thought about packing it in. I knew about all of these legends, like Iker Casillas and Gianluigi Buffon, who had made their first-team debuts at 17, and I wanted to be like them. How long could I wait?

Was it ever gonna happen for me? It didn’t really look like it.

The club had this doubt about whether I would start growing, or whether I’d always be a shorty. I think God was watching over me, because they decided to wait one more year, to see if I’d begin to mature.

My technique improved rapidly. And then an amazing thing happened: I finally started to grow. In one year, I went from 170 centimeters to 187 centimeters. My maturity level shot up to four. Suddenly I had the physique and the technique. People began to take notice of me — more than I even realized. This one day when I was 16, I was at the beach with some friends near my grandparents’ home. When I checked my phone, I had five missed calls from my grandfather. I was fearing the worst, honestly.

I thought, My goodness, maybe something’s happened to my family. I called back in a panic, saying, “Grandpa, what happened?”

He said, “Kid, you gotta come back home right now.”

“Why?! Did someone get hurt? Did someone die?”

“No, no, no … You’ve been called up to play for the Brazil Under-17s.”

I … well, I didn’t really believe it. I just didn’t. My grandfather was always a joker, you know? So I still felt I should run home to check, just to make sure. Then my uncle called me … and he said the same.

“What’s up, ugly? Congratulations!”

But I still didn’t believe it. I thought they were playing a joke.

I ran for 30 minutes from the beach to my house so I could go on the computer and check the official CBF website … I pulled up the page and there it was: Alisson Becker. I really had been called up.

Jamie McDonald/FIFA via Getty Images

And it was pretty funny, looking back, because there were a few other names you might know on the roster that day.

Neymar and Coutinho.

Things went very fast after that. In 2013, at 20, I made my senior debut for Internacional, and two years later I played my first senior game for Brazil. That game changed my life. Sometimes I actually stop and think, Wow, man. I’m here. The Brazilian national team. I am going to the World Cup. This is a miracle of God.

For everything I have accomplished, I have to thank my brother.

You see, since we were playing the same position for the same club, people were always comparing us. They were like, “Is Alisson gonna be as good as Muriel?” Some said yes, some said no. I didn’t really want to compare myself to my brother … but he gave me something to aim towards. As a professional, I had to compare myself to those who were above me, you know? I always wanted to be better than him, but he’s also super competitive, so he never wanted to lose to me. So in this period at Internacional we were training hard every day — and I do mean every day — and neither of us wanted to be worse than the other. And let me tell you, that was a huge source of motivation for us. When I was tired, he’d say, “Come on bro, let’s do some more!” And I’d do it.

And when he was tired, I’d tell him, “Move it, old man! Look at me — I’m just a kid, and I’m still beating you!”

It was this way ever since we were boys, playing with a plastic ball. It’s a competition based in a lot of love.

Sometimes it’s so easy to forget how lucky I am. What I definitely won’t forget is who helped me get here. So this summer, I’m not just gonna play for Brazil … I’m gonna play for my brother, too. And honestly, every time I put on the Brazil shirt, I think about all the training we did together.

So if you’re reading this, brother, know that every save I make in Russia is yours as well. My success is your success — because we’re part of the same story. And for that, I will always be grateful.