WITH TACTICS AND FORMATIONS CONSTANTLY PROGRESSING, the position of wing-back in the modern game has grown in importance over the past decade or so. In the last few years, many full-backs have proudly continued the tradition of keeping the position alive, such as David Alaba, Ashley Cole, Marcelo and Gianluca Zambrotta, amongst, of course, many others. There’s one, however, who set the bar the highest and achieved things and redefined what a wing-back – not full-back – does. That player is Dani Alves.
Born in Juazeiro, a Brazilian town in the state of Bahia on 6 May 1983, Daniel Alves da Silva was born into a working-class family with four brothers. From an early age, his work ethic was clear to see. He would wake up with his father at 4am to help him work on a small farm just outside of his home town, to help his family make a living. Dani continued to support his family growing up into his teens, taking on jobs as a waiter and a farmer to make ends meet.
Despite the gruelling long days he endured in the fields helping his father, football remained his first passion in life and he would travel many miles to use the sports facilities in a neighbouring town to ensure he could play the game whenever possible. This was coupled with the classic Brazilian mode of learning football in the streets.
Also fond of football, Dani’s father, Domingo Alves, set up his own team when Dani was 10, called Palmeiras de Salitre. Dani would play as a winger or a support striker and was competing with players much older than him, holding his own and impressing spectators that watched the matches. Even at such a young age, his immense footballing ability shone through. A star was quickly developing.
Alves started to struggle for goals in the attacking third of the pitch so the decision was made to move him into the right-back position; the position in which he has made himself a modern legend. His offensive playing style as a defender can be attributed to his experience as a winger when he was a child for his father’s team.
At the age of 13, Alves and his brother moved into a small, basic house in the centre of Juazeiro, which they would rent together. They would also regularly skip school to train day and night with the local team’s youth academy. José Carlos Quiroz, who was coach of Palmerias de Salitre at the time, was asked to move to Bahia to coach one of the local teams. As terms of the move, Quiroz demanded that he took captain Lucas with him, as well as Dani Alves. The demands were agreed to and, two years later, Dani was playing for the Bahia junior team, also known as Bahia’s second team. Overcoming many difficulties, including being mugged on his way home from training one day, Alves continued to follow his dream of being a professional footballer.
A couple of years later, the turning point in Alves’ career arrived one day shortly before departing for Bahia’s North-East Cup game against Recife. He was called aside from the rest of his team-mates and was told by a coach of the second team that former Barcelona and Real Madrid player and first team coach Evaristo Macedo had asked Dani to join the first team squad. His initial response was an outburst of laughter, thinking it was a joke. Dismissing the request, he continued to pack his kit bag and was preparing himself for the trip to Recife for the regional cup game with the second team.
When the request was officially confirmed by an emissary of the first team, Alves realised it was serious and could not help but wonder what Macedo wanted to discuss with him. After a short conversation, he was told that he would be making the step up to the first team and would be meeting the players in the senior squad that afternoon. Not only was he promoted to the first team, but he would be in the starting line-up for a match taking place that week. His first game in the senior squad was against Paraná in the final phase of the Brazilian Championship in 2011. Bahia won the match 3-0 and Alves impressed throughout, assisting in a goal and helping his team win a penalty which was also converted. So impressed were the fans with their young right-back, a new chant was created for him: “Dani for the first team, Dani for the first team!”
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Alves established himself as Bahia’s first choice right-back and started attracting the interest of Europe’s top clubs. In the end, it was Monchi and Sevilla who made the move and secured Alves on a season-long loan in 2003. The dream had come true; Alves had secured his move to one of Europe’s biggest leagues.
Shortly after making the loan move to the Andalusian club, Alves travelled with Brazil to participate in the 2003 FIFA World Youth Championship. It was in this tournament that Alves really underlined his potential, being named the third-best player at its conclusion. Brazil won the competition, beating Spain 1-0 in the final thanks to Manchester City midfielder Fernandinho’s goal. So impressive was Alves at this tournament, Sevilla made the loan move permanent immediately.
In the 2003-04 season, Alves played 29 games for Sevilla and established himself as their number one right-back, helping the side qualify for the UEFA Cup. As the club improved, so did Alves. Coached by Spaniard Juande Ramos, the team started winning trophies – the back-to-back UEFA Cup wins in 2006 and 2007 being a particular highlight. Alves was a key player in the side; his reputation – and value – was rising and talk of a big-money move to the Premier League was being mentioned in the media both in the UK and Spain.
In June 2006, Premier League giants Liverpool had reached an agreement with Sevilla for the transfer of Alves but the Merseyside club were unable to match the £8 million asking price Sevilla were looking for. In December 2006, Alves signed a new, improved contract until the summer of 2012. Had his chance of a big move disappeared? If it had, he wasn’t showing any signs of disappointment. A successful 2006-07 season followed, with Alves making 47 appearances in all competitions where he scored five goals. He played in every game of Sevilla’s successful UEFA Cup campaign that year.
Alves’ performances at club level were eventually rewarded with a call-up to the senior Brazil squad in October 2006. His debut came in an unofficial friendly match against a Kuwait club side. This was followed up with his first international cap in a friendly against Ecuador, which Brazil won 2-1. He had impressed his boss, Dunga, in those friendlies and was included in Brazil’s squad for the 2007 Copa América.
Alves appeared in four matches in that tournament, including the final against arch-rivals Argentina, where he put in a fantastic performance, laying on an assist and scoring a goal in a 3-0 triumph. Alves was now showing his class on the international stage, as well as at club level.
With his stock rising and his performances turning him into one of the best right-backs in European football, Alves knew it was time to move on and test himself at the highest level. On 1 August 2007, following reported interest from Premier League side Chelsea. Alves told Brazilian cable television network SporTV that he wanted to leave Sevilla for a European giant and found Chelsea’s interest “flattering”, stating he could never turn down such an opportunity.
On 16 August 2007, Chelsea’s bid for Alves was rejected by Sevilla, who deemed the bid “way below what was expected”. Alves found the news tough to take and hit out at the club, saying Sevilla chairman José María del Nido had disrespected him. Following the public falling out between the player and the Sevilla chairman, and the death of team-mate Antonio Puerta, Alves decided to stay with Sevilla, with the player and president appearing reconciled in the short-term. Alves was to play one last season at the club.
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In July 2008, Barcelona came calling. In a fee which reached nearly £30 million, making him one of the most expensive defenders in the history of football, Alves signed for the Catalan giants on a four-year deal which included a buyout clause of €90 million. At his press conference, Alves paid tribute to Sevilla, stating he joined as a boy and left as a man. His aim of becoming the best right-back in the world was now well on course.
When the signing of Alves was complete, Pep Guardiola, the Catalan coach who was beginning his managerial career at the club in the same summer, declared how happy he was with the signing. “His signing is very good news for the club,” said Pep at the Brazilian’s unveiling. “Along with Messi, if they work together, we will have the best right flank in the world.” How right he would be.
In Alves’ peak years at the club, his extraordinary pace and fitness allowed him to provide an extra attacking threat to Barcelona’s build-up play from the right-hand side of the pitch, whilst being capable of tracking back at great speed when being caught on the counter. Tactically astute and technically capable of playing in such a demanding system, he was Guardiola’s perfect full-back.
Alves made his competitive and European debut for Barcelona against Polish side Wisła Kraków in the 2008-09 Champions League third round qualifiers on 13 August 2008, with his Barcelona league debut coming away from home against Numancia two weeks later. As well as establishing himself as the best right-back in Europe, he had also established himself as the first choice right-back at international level for Brazil.
Since his debut in 2007, Alves has won the Copa América, the Confederations Cup in 2009 and played in the World Cup, which took place in South Africa in 2010. To date, he has achieved 99 caps for the national side, scoring seven goals and gaining a reputation as a hugely influential figure in the dressing room, promoting positivity and a professional attitude.
He enjoyed phenomenal success at Barcelona, playing 247 games and becoming the second-most decorated footballer in European competitions of all-time behind the great Paolo Maldini at AC Milan. In his time at Barcelona he won six league titles, four Copa del Reys, four Supercopa de Españas, three Champions Leagues, three UEFA Super Cups and three FIFA Club World Cups. He is also one of only seven players to have played in both treble-winning Barcelona teams alongside Lionel Messi, Andrés Iniesta, Xavi, Gerard Piqué, Pedro and Sergio Busquets .
In June 2016, Barcelona’s technical secretary Roberto Fernández announced that Dani Alves would be leaving the club after eight years of service. Although his contract still had a year to run, the club allowed Alves to leave on a free transfer and find a new club out of respect for the player’s contribution to their success he had with them.
But why leave a club in which he has achieved legendary status at? Alves stated: “Barça is an incredible club, but I was in too comfortable a position. I’m a person that when they feel comfortable, it means that something is going wrong. What moves me are challenges and the battle to make history somewhere else. I hope things can continue in the same way, just in a different place.”
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Since originally making these comments, Alves has gone on to launch a scathing attack at the Barcelona hierarchy in the last few weeks. When asked how he felt since leaving the Catalan giants, Alves responded: “Leaving Barcelona on a free was a classy punch. During my last three seasons, I kept hearing ‘Dani is leaving’, but the directors never said anything to me. They were very false and ungrateful, they didn’t respect me. They only offered me a contract when they got the FIFA sanctions. Those who run Barcelona today have no idea how to treat their players.”
On 27 June 2016, Italian giants Juventus announced the signing of Alves on a two-year deal with the option of a third year. Alves made his official club debut two months later in a 2-1 home win over rivals Fiorentina. However, he suffered a huge injury setback on 27 November when he broke his leg in a 3-1 defeat at the hands of Genoa. As a result of the injury, Alves has only played 10 games for the Turin side to date and will be hoping he can return to the player he was before the injury.
In addition to Alves’ ferociously competitive spirit on the pitch, he has shown what a genuine man he is off it. While his Barcelona team-mate Eric Abidal was suffering from liver cancer in 2011, Alves offered to donate part of his own liver if it would aid with the Frenchman’s treatment. He also wore the shirt number 22 in the 2013-14 season as a tribute to his friend.
Alves was appointed as a Special Olympics Ambassador for its global football program in September 2011, charged with promoting respect and inclusion in football for people with disabilities of all kinds. He is known to return to his native Brazil during his holidays every year away from football and admits that fulfilling his father’s dream of becoming a professional footballer is one of the proudest achievements in his life.
Alves is also known for not being afraid to say (or show) how he feels, and under the laughing, light-hearted exterior lies a bullish, determined character. When asked what he thought of Messi reaching the landmark of scoring 400 Barcelona goals, he replied with: “When we retire, people will ask: who was the greatest? Messi. And who gave him the passes? Dani. My name is there, whether people like it or not.” He also has a tattoo of tweety bird on his shin to prove that “the little guys in football rule too”.
Perhaps the most infamous incident involving Alves on a football pitch occurred in April 2014, when Barcelona travelled to Villarreal for a league game. Whilst retrieving the ball to take a throw-in on the far side of the pitch, a banana was thrown at him in what was perceived to be a racist slur. Alves picked up the banana, peeled it and took a bite. After the game, he responded to the incident by saying to the media: “We have suffered this in Spain for some time now; you have to take it with a dose of humour. If you don’t give it importance, they don’t achieve their objective.”
Alves received an outpouring of support from fellow footballers for the response – with team-mate Neymar posting a photograph of himself eating a banana on social media as a sign of support for the full-back.
Although Alves is now approaching the twilight of his career at 33, he has set the standard for how the modern-day defender should play the game. While Messi, Iniesta and Xavi received the majority of praise for the success of the greatest club side of all-time, lurking in the background was one of the best right-backs to have ever played the game.
By Jordan Pomeroy @EastTerrace00