Dani Alves might leave Barcelona and that is a reason for regret
Dani Alves stretched out a foot one way and leaned the other way while giggling.
"I've got a foot out [of Barcelona], a body out, and almost a head out, too," he said on May 25 as a massive grin threatened to engulf him. The spectacle wasn't over just yet, not quite, despite the best efforts of the FC Barcelona press officer. "Last two questions," he had said. "Nah", Alves responded, waggling his finger in mock admonishment, "we've got until 2 [o'clock]." And they nearly got there; Alves finally departed just after 1.50. He had arrived saying he didn't want to make a scene. Imagine if he had.
San Joan Despi staged the Dani Alves show. He was on a roll, arms waving, hardly able to sit still, like a hyperactive child. Giggles, jokes, and scores settled, a sprinkling of swearwords, and a permanent smile. "Rubbish, next question," he said at one point, apologising to the journalist who asked it but insisting that he didn't have much to say to his radio station. He called another TV show "embarrassing". It might have been angry, aggressive, if he had not been falling about when he said it.
It was a show, all right. "The Dani Alves Hour", an all-singing, all-dancing extravaganza. "
I'm not going to talk about my future, he had insisted when he turned up, but he talked about his future, and his future almost certainly lies somewhere else. At 32, Alves has not been offered a contract he thinks he can accept to continue at the Camp Nou. As he said, he's got a foot out, a body out and almost a head out, too. The Champions League final against Juventus will almost certainly be his final game for Barcelona.
Those people are idiots.
No, really -- they are.
"Dani Alves is the best right-back in the world. It would be difficult to find another like him." That's what Lionel Messi said. But, hey, what does he know, right? It is baffling that there are those who are so keen to see the back of Alves after a career when rival defenders have so often seen the back of him. All the more so now. They think they won't miss him. Yeah, they think that now. They might change their minds soon. OK, pack him off then; pack him off now when you can't buy any other full-back and play Martin Montoya or Douglas instead. Good luck with that one.
Dani Alves wears loud and flamboyant clothes. He has loads of tattoos. He wears glasses when he doesn't need glasses. He plays about. He has funny haircuts. He speaks out, he says things. Things he shouldn't. Well, you know what? Good. Better a Dani Alves than a thousand boring automatons. Why shouldn't he wear whatever he likes? Why not enjoy it? And, besides, here's the thing: Not only is there very rarely any malice at all, he also has a habit of being right.
Alves makes people uncomfortable. Good. That's their problem. Mind you, their problem becomes his. Sure, he has not always played well and, in fact, for much of last season he was borderline awful. Everyone said so. They laid into him, tearing him to bits. But here's a question for you: Would the same player turning in exactly the same performances but with a "normal" haircut, no tattoos and no mouth have been attacked like he has?
The aforementioned news conference was an example. The truth is most people enjoyed it but there were was criticism for him speaking out in the week before the Copa del Rey final. If Barcelona had lost he would have been destroyed him but Barcelona did not lose. He might still be destroyed if they lose the Champions League final in Berlin. But did his appearance really make any difference? Of course not, not least because Alves drew a vital distinction that so rarely gets drawn: the club is not the team. And the team certainly didn't mind. In fact, they were probably on his side. They'd like him to be renewed too.
Messi said "it would be hard to find a full-back like Alves" and, a few days later, Barcelona's final goal in the Copa del Rey final -- scored by Messi -- was provided by a lovely assist. From Dani Alves, who has provided so many to Messi over the years. No one has given the Argentine more assists in the Champions League and no one has given him more assists in La Liga either (a total of 24 in the last five seasons). But that one in the cup final may well be the last ever.
After the Champions League final, Alves will go. Some will be pleased, but they shouldn't be. Even if they can make a case for it being the right decision now -- and the truth is they can -- responding by taking pleasure at his passing would be wrong.
Even if, at his age, it might be time for Alves to move on; even if the money he wants to stay is far, far, far too much; even if there was something a bit suspicious, cynical even, about the fact that his best performances came when he was trying to persuade Barcelona to give him a new contract; even if there have been times when he has momentarily let himself go; even if his crossing was sometimes so bad as to be comic, when he does go they should not celebrate his departure. Especially not now.
They should, though, celebrate the time he spent at the Camp Nou. They should also wonder what will happen without him, maybe even fear it.
Here comes the old chestnut. Ah, they say, but he can't defend. But here's the thing: Alves can defend, and not just because attacking is defending too and not just because looking at his contribution in his own penalty area alone is ridiculously reductionist. Not just because his attacking instincts are not just whimsical and certainly not irresponsible; they are, rather, a decision taken not just by him but by his coaches. Why? Because it benefits the team to play like that. This season, by the way, Barcelona have kept 23 clean sheets and no player in the league made more tackles -- 95 -- than Alves.
It would be tempting to describe Alves as the best right-back you've seen, except that right-back is such an inadequate description. More like an attacking one-man band, a whirl of energy or talent and temperament. He pushed the boundaries of the rules too, let's be honest, and was hyperactive and impossible to stop. A footballing Sonic the Hedgehog, he made things happen and, in the last 10 years, no one has provided more assists in Spain.
But forget Barcelona for a moment: watch him instead during his days at Sevilla between 2002-08. A full-back might never have been so influential or so much fun. The typical Sevilla move involved Alves getting the ball from the goalkeeper, playing a one-two with the centre-back, charging up the pitch, playing a one-two with the deep midfielder, charging up the pitch some more, playing a one-two with the attacking midfielder, screeching into the area and dropping the ball off to the forward to score . Ask people at the Sanchez Pizjuan and many of them will tell you that their best player was the right-back.
They love Dani Alves at Sevilla, and no wonder. He led them to two UEFA Cups, the Copa del Rey, the European Super Cup and the Spanish Super Cup. When he left, Barcelona had just finished a season empty-handed. Alves and Gerard Pique were the only significant new signings ahead of 2008-09, a season in which the club won the treble. No, that was not solely down to Alves but, yes, it was partly down to Alves. In 2009, someone (ahem) described him as the second-best player in the world.
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At the risk of being repetitive, let's go back to Messi again. What was that he said? "Alves is the best right-back in the world". Everyone will talk about Messi and Xavi and Andres Iniesta and Neymar and Luis Suarez. They should talk about Alves too and yet you suspect they won't. Xavi is leaving Barcelona as the most important player in Spanish football history; he has been feted and rightly so. He departs as the most decorated club player there has ever been, with 24 trophies. Alves, who was at Sevilla for six years, has 22 in all. If he stayed next season, he almost certainly would go past Xavi.
But he won't stay. Alves won the treble in his first season at Barcelona and there is a chance he will win a treble in his last. Alves is about to leave Spain and Spain is about to be a lot less fun. People whinge now but they'll miss him when he's gone. Forgive them, Dani, they know not what they do!
Dani Alves has a foot, a head and half a body out of there. When he goes he'll be carrying a big bag of medals with him. Ora do final, bye-bye!. Bye-bye, Dani. Be good. And if you can't be good, be yourself.
Sid Lowe is a Spain-based columnist and journalist who writes for ESPN FC, the Guardian, FourFourTwo and World Soccer. Follow him on Twitter at @sidlowe.