Why Barcelona are truly going to miss Dani Alves

Alves

Dani Alves’ departure after an eight year stay at Barcelona was recently confirmed by the club, with Serie A juggernauts Juventus his likely next port of call.

No doubt Barcelona supporters will be reeling at the loss. Whilst the right-sided wizard is now considered a veteran at the age of 33, their aren’t too many that can claim to be better in his position.

However two years ago it was looking very different for Alves. Poor form had meant the Brazilian’s place in the side was no longer assured, and the implementation of new boss Luis Enrique meant the squad had serious doubts over their identity. The club’s front office didn’t seem too concerned that the Brazilian was nearing the end of his contract and with both Manchester United and PSG hovering, the Catalan club decided to offer their star wing back a new deal. This decision was justified by Alves giving the form of his life – a renaissance that led to an Enrique led treble.

“If I had to choose [which medals mean most], I’d say last year’s because there were so many doubts: if I was finished, if Barcelona should get rid of me, if I shouldn’t be there …” Alves once admitted on his comeback. “I wouldn’t say it got to me but it annoyed me because I love my profession, I live for football, for my team, my team-mates. If I only thought about myself, I’d be no use. I don’t want to talk about me, me, me … and find we haven’t won anything. That’s a disaster.”

Whilst world football is seemingly universal in its admiration for Alves’ qualities, he hasn’t been without his detractors. The Brazilian’s loud sometimes and abrasive chaotic character has been seen by some to be breaking rank. Funnily enough this is reflected in his kinetic free flowing style of ‘defending’. Of course even he uses that term loosely.

“What is ‘defend’?,” he was once questioned during an interview with the Guardian. “That no one ever dribbles or attacks? Bloody hell, football would be boring, wouldn’t it? You can prepare [only] to defend but then the guy dribbles past you anyway … what, you think you’re the only one that’s quick? If you ‘defend’, you don’t attack; if you ‘attack’, you don’t defend? What’s football for? To win. And to win you have to score more. The winner isn’t [just] the team that defends incredibly; if you defend well but don’t score, it’s worthless.”

It’s this disregard for black and white views on the way the game should be played that led to Guardiola’s Barcelona forking out €32m for his services. A fee that proved a little too high in the eyes of Roman Abramovich who baulked at the thought of paying such a fee for a right back.

Barcelona’s right wing has delivered three times as many goals as the left during Pep’s heyday, with the full-back providing 10 assists. Whilst his technical ability wouldn’t rank on the scale of his ludicrously talented team-mates, his penchant for killer passes, sound tactical nous and crunching tackles, not to mentions an inability to never stop running has made him a truly magnificent attacking weapon.

The Brazilian’s tenure at Barcelona resulted in an dizzyingly impressive haul of 6 La Liga titles, 4 Copa Del Rey’s, 3 Champions League titles, 3 UEFA Super Cup’s and 3 FIFA Club World Cup’s. A total amount of trophies even the man himself struggles to keep up with.

So the question begs, how does he rank among the greatest ever in his position. The candidates are impressive.

Maicon, a former Treble winner with Jose Mourinho’s Inter, had all the attributes of a true great also. However his talent seemed to disappear once a young Gareth Bale took him to the cleaners one fateful night at the San Siro. Previous to that his 2009-10 season represented his most fruitful, as the players speed and gorilla like strength made the right side of the pitch one to avoid for any wise opposition.

Lillian Thuram was also widely regarded as one of the greats of his generation, making a massive 142 appearance for France. Javier Zanetti’s career length reached mammoth proportions and was a consistent performer in defensive situations. Phillip Lahm was and is a supremely intelligent and incisive back in the day when seen as ‘just’ a right back.

Perhaps the biggest rival to his crown would be fellow Brazilian Cafu. Even at the age of 35 the player ran the right with relentless energy and elegance, coupled with supreme technical ability, not to mention he has claimed two World Cups.

But do any of them hold a candle to Dani Alves during attacking transitions?

Of course the Barcelona superstar functioned in very different systems to his contemporaries, used as more of a wing back with a possession based emphasis in mind. Alves is the right-back in a four-man defense, somewhat different to Cafu who had the cover of three centre half’s in many of the teams he played for.

Even with just the two centre-backs to his left, Alves plays ludicrously high up the pitch in some matches. Sometimes ahead of Barcelona’s midfield even when no longer in possession. Of course the side was set up to very much accommodate Alves’ forward roaming tenancies.

It’s this unpredictable wing back play, not to mention his enviable acceleration and stamina, that make him almost impossible to nullify out of the game. It often became common to see sides playing left-backs on the left of midfield to try and stop him his deep bursting runs.

While Lionel Messi of course takes Barcelona to a whole new level with his untitled genius, the likes of Sergio Busquets, Gerard Pique and Andres Iniesta also contribute heavily to the clubs impressive footballing style, Dani Alves’ stretching of the field free’d up so much space for his compadres. A team that are absurdly brilliant at taking teams apart through the middle, owe a hell of a lot to the man taking teams apart down the wing.

Editor’s note: Michael Golley writes for DispensableSoccer.

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