Dani Alves on his path to Europe, winning with Messi at Barca, life with Neymar at PSG, and MLS
Dani Alves has a résumé that most can only dream about. Not only has his career taken him to some of the world's most beautiful cities -- Seville, Barcelona, Turin and Paris, among others -- he's also won a staggering 40 trophies.
ESPN's Moises Llorens recently sat down with the 36-year-old to document his footballing journey from Brazil to Europe, his relationships with Pep Guardiola and Neymar, and what the future holds for the Brazil international.
Editor's note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity. It's also been translated to English from Portuguese.
ESPN: When you were a kid, did you dream of reaching these heights?
Dani Alves: I always dreamed big; however, I dreamed of becoming the next Michael Jackson or Bruno Mars. My dream was always to make a career in music and I ended up making it in soccer. One thing I can say is that I always had the feeling I was going to become famous and that I was going to be known to people throughout the world. I wanted to be a great singer, just like [Spanish pop singer] Alejandro Sanz; however, I didn't have a voice for it, and I ended up running behind a football.
I ended up fulfilling one of my father's dreams, to be honest with you. Back in Brazil, becoming a football player is a dream every boy and girl has; however, not everyone can make it. My father took me to the pitch to play and I scored a lot of goals as a forward. He tried to persuade me into it, but I ended up setting up my musical instruments and making my own little band. He signed me up to a football school, I received an invitation from Bahia to play football and I ended up following that path. I told my father I was going to try my luck.
Thanks to my education and my commitment, I ended up where I am today.
ESPN: How did the Sevilla signing come to be? What did you know about Spanish and Europen football back then?
Dani Alves: I don't like to lie. However, sometimes in life you have to tell a white lie. I was playing with Bahia and I moved to Sudamericano. Antonio Fernandez, who was working with Sevilla as an executive, came up and introduced himself to me. He asked me if I would like to play for Sevilla. And that's when I lied. I said "yes," that I knew everything about them and that I would love to play for them. I wanted to go somewhere else and make a better living. I had no clue about Sevilla -- I didn't even know where the city was. I only knew about music. I told them I knew all about them, but that white lie helped me in showing the interest I had in playing there.
ESPN: How close were you to signing with Real Madrid? And Chelsea?
Dani Alves: I'll be honest with you, I was 95 percent close to signing with Real Madrid. However, [former Sevilla president Jose Maria] Del Nido is a very tough dude. Chelsea also got involved [in talks] and they started to play along. He dealt with one side and he told them that the other team was willing to pay even more money than them. Then I had to make a decision and in the end, I stayed with Sevilla. I was very close to signing with Real Madrid, but fate got in the way. It said that my history was going to be made with Barcelona, as I had dreamed as a kid. And you have to make dreams come true, instead of nightmares.
I'm grateful that I was able to avoid going to Madrid and, obviously, signing with Barca. Real was a winning side and I wasn't going to go there in order to keep the status quo. It was more exciting for me to build what we did in Barcelona. We had to change history and so we did. In Madrid, it would have been a case of adding pages to a book they had already written. Instead, with Barca it was a different thing. There was a transition in progress and people went to the stands carrying scarves. We changed the meaning of those scarves, made them even brighter. That was the one thing we achieved with Sevilla and Barca.
ESPN: How did the Barcelona signing come to be?
Dani Alves: As soon I found out that Barca had an interest in me, I told [my agent] that I didn't want to talk with anyone else. I was fully aware that my history with Sevilla had reached its conclusion and I said that either I signed with Barca or I wouldn't play again with Sevilla. They had already played with two or three years into my future. They had already played with my present but I wanted to have a say in my future. Liverpool, Madrid and Chelsea all showed interest, but it didn't work. When Barca reached out, I said, "It's done."
ESPN: Is Pep Guardiola good to work with?
Dani Alves: I can't complain. There was only a moment in which we had our disagreements, but we talked it out. There was a bit of a scuffle, but we were able to fix it one week later.
For me, that's the big virtue Pep Guardiola has. He makes decisions holding his heart in his hand, but he's able to make the best decisions, and that's what I like about him, even if it hurts you. He's a perfectionist. Sometimes, he tries to take a step back in order not to fail. In our last year, we didn't feel Pep was that way anymore, since he is a f-----g genius.
ESPN: If Messi had not missed that penalty against Chelsea and Barca would've made it to the Champions League final, do you think Guardiola would've left?
Dani Alves: He had already decided to leave and the decision was final. He had already achieved everything he could do with us. I think he was honest, because he is a perfectionist and he wants that everyone who surrounds him to behave in the same way. Here's an example: if you make a pass that does not make your teammate's play any easier, he makes sure to set up the very same play all over again. He doesn't like to see that his players waste any time and that the game slows down or that you become selfish. He believes in the power of a group, just like we do.
ESPN: You've said that if Guardiola asked you to jump out a window, you would do it. Why?
Dani Alves: I'd jump and do it because I know that, in the end, something good will come out of it. Would I do it right now? No, because he's not there anymore [laughs]. If he says something to me because he's mad about something, I wouldn't since there could be a small trick in it.
ESPN: Why did you decide to play for Paris Saint-Germain when everyone thought you were going to Manchester City?
Dani Alves: I had spent a somewhat unpleasant year in Italy, in Turin. I felt cheated since I didn't get what I had been promised. And that's the worst feeling there is. I made history with Juventus and I was able to ask some people there how they felt about Daniel Alves as a worker. There isn't a single person in there who doesn't love me. A different thing altogether is the relationship with those who took me there, what they told me. That was my decision. I respect history and Juventus a lot. I made many friends in there. If people are happy then everything comes back to you. I felt that they failed me, and I left Juventus.
Then, I thought about my personal well-being, my family's. That's why I didn't go to City. Pep knows about how much I appreciate him and that I'd be willing to work with him again. However, at that moment I wasn't really thinking about a reunion with him, I was thinking about what I needed in order to be happy and the new challenges I had ahead of me. All my challenges with Guardiola were solved and Paris represented a more exciting proposition. The relationship between us is very positive.
ESPN: We know this is something you don't like to talk about, but how are the new contract negotiations going with PSG?
Dani Alves: The only real attachment I had in life was the one I had with my mom when I had an umbilical cord, and even that one was cut off. I'm a free man and I'm among those who think that one plus one equals one instead of two, since we are working together. If we remain on the same page, we will stay together. If that's not the case, then it won't happen.
ESPN: Can you reach an understanding?
Dani Alves: As of now, we are not. They know I want to go in a direction and that I want to help this club to change its history. But I don't know if that's what they want. I can contribute a lot inside PSG and if we can't agree on it, then we will see.
ESPN: You've always said you dream of playing in the Premier League.
Dani Alves: It's not a dream, because I make my dreams come true with effort. I've said I would like it. It is a very exciting league; they feel a lot of respect and what I like is the respect they have for the professional player. If he gives his all, they respect him. And here, in the rest of Europe, it looks like that if you don't win matches then you don't get any respect. I don't have that problem, I'm a winner.
ESPN: An adventure in England before retiring?
Dani Alves: That's the goal, and it's on the back burner.
ESPN: Sergio Busquets has talked about MLS, Mikel San Jose has talked about MLS and a month-and-a-half ago we were in London with Mauricio Pochettino and he too acknowledged it is a league that catches his eye. Does MLS appeal to you?
Dani Alves: Frankly, most of the things they do in the U.S. are enticing. Saying otherwise would be a lie. Because of the organization they have, their structure, the fact they always do things in a big way and they strive for excellence, that is something very appealing for everyone. If it wasn't a nice league, no one would even think of going there. When they talk about it, they know how important it is and the growth it has experienced. Obviously, you always keep an eye on it, no doubt.
ESPN: When Neymar was signed, Johan Cruyff said that with Lionel Messi and him there were too many roosters in the hen house. Do you remember that?
Dani Alves: Cruyff can be wrong, just like everyone else. He was not perfect. He made mistakes as a player, he made mistakes as a manager. Nobody's perfect. Looking from the inside, I had it clear. Will this work or won't it? I said, "it will" because I knew them and I knew that something was going to click, because Leo isn't dumb.
ESPN: How did you enjoy that phase? Because if it was a good situation only with Messi, with Neymar ...
Dani Alves: It was lights out. I felt we couldn't lose a game. You saw how the team trained, how we played, the positioning we made, how we pressed and how we ran, I thought we were unbeatable -- even if we really weren't, but that's how we felt. Everything was so connected and perfect.
ESPN: Were you surprised when Neymar left Barca?
Dani Alves: I wasn't truly shocked. Neymar wanted to prove his worth as a player by himself, without counting on Messi being next to him.
ESPN: How is Neymar now?
Dani Alves: He's in transition, because he's not getting the results he wants. And he's very obsessed about it and he always wants to be on top. Therefore, if he doesn't make it, it would be clear that he's unhappy. He must take advantage of his time off and his vacation and reflect on what he can do in order to be a bigger player than he already is and to reach a much better place than the one he is in right now.
ESPN: Is Neymar happy in Paris?
Dani Alves: He is not happy, since he didn't get the results he wanted and that brings him unhappiness. I would beat the crap out of him if he feels happy without winning.
ESPN: Would you bet a dinner that Neymar will stay at PSG next season?
Dani Alves: A dinner is not enough. Should I bet the Eiffel Tower? I believe that he will stay with PSG.
ESPN: And what if Real Madrid calls him?
Dani Alves: If Madrid calls me, I'd say no. And if it calls me to ask me about Neymar, I'd say no as well [laughs].
ESPN: Would you be surprised if Madrid calls him?
Dani Alves: Madrid calls a lot of people. I wouldn't be surprised at all.
ESPN: What about Neymar returning to Barca?
Dani Alves: I think it's very difficult. People inside Barca, I think, won't be willing to acknowledge that they need him. And that's a problem, you can't go anywhere guided by your ego. You can't let your ego dictate your life. Barca has that problem and they won't recognize that they need him and that already drives him away from Barca. Which side doesn't need Ney? Everyone needs Ney.
ESPN: You played with Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez at Barca. Now Kylian Mbappe is with you at PSG, and he's a rocket ...
Dani Alves: Yes, he's a rocket, but he can go even farther than that. He's very young, and when he grows up and develops, he can be a whole lot more of a player than he already is right now.
ESPN: Even though he doesn't play like Messi, Messi -- like everyone else -- is getting old. Could Mbappe be the next Messi?
Dani Alves: There's no one like Messi.
ESPN: Has Ligue 1 become too small for PSG?
Dani Alves: At some point in time, it is not demanding for us. People say [Ligue 1] is easy for us. I disagree. I have never run so much in my life like I have at the French league. Players here have a very physical style and you have to make a brutal effort in each and every match. It's true that this league isn't easy; however, the gap between PSG and the rest of the teams is huge. Because of the quality of the players we have. The club? Well, this is Paris and there is a huge difference.
ESPN: When you walk around the city, do people bother you?
Dani Alves: You can have a great life here. It's a very expensive place but with quality of life.
ESPN: Are your kids [in Paris]?
Dani Alves: No, they're in Brazil.
ESPN: Do you speak French?
Dani Alves: I can hold my own speaking French.
ESPN: You've always been very fashion-forward. Have you been invited to fashion shows?
Dani Alves: You can see lots of fashionable things here and that's a thing which makes it so unique. I'm so in love with this world and, as I always say, I'm enamored of free worlds, of places in which you can create your own story. And I believe fashion is such a world, in which people would not tell you the things you have to do. You can create your own story in there if you have your own personality to do so.
ESPN: What do you think about the club ultras and their racism?
Dani Alves: It is a shame, to be honest with you. I had that issue when I played in Villarreal. I had been dealing with it for a long time since I got to Spain. I thought it was embarrassing that we were dealing with this thing after so much time and that the human being hasn't been able to evolve a single bit. The human being is not concerned about the person next to him, he is selfish and lives within himself. I have already said in an interview that it would continue to happen because humans are quite stupid and don't evolve regarding this issue. And now, in 2019, you can see it in a different manner, but it still is the same problem and we have to realize that the world belongs to all of us and that we all belong to the same world. And that we can't keep on stereotyping people and that we must respect ourselves instead of doing whatever we want without thinking of the consequences.
People are pushing for a power that is worthless. If you do not own things that make you look like a millionaire, your wealth is worthless. We used to joke with my friends saying we were multimillionaires without having any money. However, we weren't poor, because we had values that cannot be bought with lots of millions.