One of the biggest on-pitch developments in football in recent years is the changing role of the goalkeeper, particularly the extent to which the men between the posts now use their feet. Yet even allowing for that shift, the footwork of Brazil’s custodian at the FIFA U-17 World Cup Chile 2015 has been one of the most striking features of the competition.

“Football has changed a lot in the last few years,” Juliano, the tall custodian in question, told FIFA.com, with a smile etched on his face. “Keepers still need to save shots, but these days they also need to take part in the game and they need to use their feet to do that. The game’s evolving. I like that and I hope goalkeeping keeps on changing.”

Not slow to make his opinions known, the teenage shotstopper brought Brazil’s full national team keeper into the conversation: “Perhaps in this respect the seniors operate a system that’s not quite so up to date. I’m not saying it’s better or worse, just different. Julio Cesar is very good with his feet, but maybe the style of play doesn’t allow him to show that.”

Making his contribution to the debate, Brazil’s U-17 team coach Carlos Amadeu put things into context: “We’ve always been skilful but it’s always been the case that the player who had the least ability with his feet went into goal,” he told FIFA.com. “There’s a different vision today. We want keepers to know how to use their feet. I’ve been doing it since 2009 because I come from futsal and now we’re promoting that style in the U-17 team.”

Backing up his argument further, Amadeu added: “If you bring the keeper into the team, you have another outfield player, which gives you a numerical advantage over the opposition right from the start of the move. Keepers might wear a jersey with a different colour and have their own coach, but they’re still part of the team.”

Dedication to the cause
Juliano is the first to admit that he has never been gifted with his feet, an aspect of his game that he started to work on with his club, Atletico Paranaense, whose goalkeeping coach also happens to be part of the Brazil U-17 backroom staff.

So what was the hardest part for Juliano in changing his game? “Getting the idea into my head,” he replied. “If you want to get better, you have to practice and you also have to see how others do it, like [Marc-Andre] ter Stegen at Barcelona and [Manuel] Neuer at Bayern Munich.”

“I feel totally secure and comfortable now,” added Juliano, who listed Iker Casillas and David de Gea among his role models. “It’s all about teamwork. You create a problem for yourself if the team’s not ready. If you get the ball and you don’t have a pass on, then... The defenders have to know what you’re going to do and what they’re going to do.”

As he has shown more than once at Chile 2015, Juliano is not afraid to come out and dribble round opposing attackers: “That’s always the last resort. The first is to pass the ball to a team-mate, the next to hit it long and the next is to hit it out. If you’ve seen me dribble with the ball it’s because I’ve had to, not because I’ve chosen to.”

As Amadeu explained, there is always the risk of a mistake: “It doesn’t matter how much we practice, it’s down to the keeper to make that split-second decision. In Juliano’s case, I’ve got no worries: he’s down to earth and hard-working and he’s responsible off the pitch too. I expect him to be the same on it.”

An avid reader of football books and sports biographies, Juliano blushed slightly at his coach’s praise and described himself as a keeper who works for his team: “I don’t want to be a hero today and a zero tomorrow. Between the posts I just try to do what’s easiest, without overdoing things. And when I’ve got the ball at my feet, I just try to be effective.”

Sizing up Brazil’s Round of 16 opponents New Zealand, Juliano said the tie was anything but a foregone conclusion: “They’re a side that’s coming on, as their qualification for the last 16 shows. We’re certainly not looking on ourselves as favourites. We know we’ve got what it takes to win the competition, but we also know that we’ll have to work for it. There’s nobody here that believes we’ll win the title just by pulling on the jersey.”