Dani Alves says that Barcelona’s players must remain united and not allow doubts seeping in from outside the dressing room to harm them.
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The Barca camp have been rocked by two surprise defeats in a week -- losing to Ajax and Athletic Bilbao -- leading to renewed criticism of coach Gerardo Martino’s methods, amid an atmosphere still soured by splits between supporters of current president Sandro Rosell and his predecessor Juan Laporta.
The former Sevilla full-back told Mundo Deportivo that he and his Blaugrana teammates were “alone” and needed to shut out all the noise that always surrounds the Catalan club.
“Things coming from outside cannot make us doubt the great team we have, and the great work we are doing every day,” Alves said. “If we doubt ourselves because of external things, we are lost. Once the doubts stay outside, we will remain at the top. What happens around the club should not affect us. We are alone. When we are most strong is when we are together. The media form opinions, and people might believe them, but if we do not doubt ourselves, we will be on top.”
Barca’s situation has not been helped by injuries which in recent weeks have sidelined key players including Alves himself, Victor Valdes, Carles Puyol, Xavi Hernandez, Andres Iniesta, Jordi Alba and perhaps most importantly Lionel Messi, who will not play again until 2014.
Alves said that his fellow countryman Neymar, signed for 65 million euros last summer, could step up to fill the current leadership gap in the team.
“[Neymar] was signed to take on responsibilities and he must do that,” he said. “Today he is responsible for the Brazil national side being where it is, and at Barca he must begin to assume responsibilities. I speak with him every day and tell him what he must do. He was signed to make the difference in moments like this. I do not see him worried. He has this gift of being different, and I back him to do that.”
Alves himself will soon be back in action, but his calf muscle problem was a tricky one which needed careful management, the full-back said.
“I am good, I am getting better as the days pass,” he said. “It is an injury you must be careful with because it can make other things worse, so I must recover well and return when I am ready. There is no return date yet, you cannot force it.”
The 30-year-old also had plenty to say about the current Ballon d’Or race, which Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo now appears best placed to win.
“I am fed up to the teeth with the Ballon d’Or, as it seems that whoever does the best campaign wins it, as if it were a political race,” Alves said. “It is very tiresome all this. I have other ideas -- the winner should have scored lots of goals and helped his team win trophies. Someone who has won nothing, or who has not scored a decisive goal cannot win.
“Cristiano has always scored goals, but important ones? With all due respect to Sweden, these were goals in a playoff. Maybe I see football in a different way but please… for me the merit comes by qualifying directly, not in the playoff. If we are talking about the best in the world, Leo [Messi] is first, [Franck] Ribery second for what he has won, and Neymar third for bringing back the respect of the football world for Brazil.”