La Liga Legend #2 | Dani Alves

Daniel Alves da Silva. It’s interesting that the name of an eccentric Brazilian full-back has come to define a position. Alves has, in his years as a professional footballer, gone on to revolutionize the role of the full-back, alongside contemporaries such as Philip Lahm and Marcelo Viera. During his time in Spain, Alves acted as a conduit for several attacking units, including Pep Guardiola’s famous Barcelona attack. 

In the summer of 1983, Alves was born to a Brazilian farmer in the city of Juaziero, in the province of Bahia. Alves’ parents put him into football early, which he later juggled with other blue-collar jobs. Alves started out as a winger but the lack of end-product forced him to move back into defence. In hindsight, that was beyond wise. His defensive positioning and scanning skills would have been wasted on the wings. He’d also have been unable to have a direct hand in ball progression, especially in wider channels. 

In 2001, Dani made his debut for Bahia, against Paraná, in the Brazilian Série A. Bahia won the game 3-0 with Alves racking up two assists and setting up a penalty in the process. Thereafter, Alves became a permanent fixture in the Bahia first eleven, under the management of Evaristo Macedo. In the summer of 2002, he was finally poached up by a European side, with Sevilla signing him on a loan deal. 

In his first season in Andalusia, Alves didn’t play much. He ended the season with just 248 league minutes played. However, that changed after the 2003 FIFA World Youth Championship. There, Alves guided his team to victory and was named player of the tournament. Subsequently, Sevilla agreed to make his move permanent. In the 2003-04 season, Alves became a more recurring fixture in the squad; he racked up 2415 minutes in the league alone. Under Joaquín Caparrós, Alves honed his attacking capabilities. He became a more central figure in the squad as the seasons went by; eventually becoming a guaranteed starter under the management of Juande Ramos, who guided Sevilla to a fifth-place finish in his first season in charge. Mind you, Ramos’s side weren’t particularly proficient in front of goal in that first season (they finished with 54 goals in the league).

Alves’ attacking contributions, therefore, was nothing spectacular. He finished the season with 3074 minutes played and was involved in four goals. The following season, Sevilla finished third in La Liga, only five points off top spot, and went on to win the UEFA Cup. Ramos solidified his 4-4-2/4-2-3-1 gameplan, with Alves becoming more influential and important. 

Then came 2007-08. Despite being linked and courted by several European giants, as well as expressing a desire to leave, Alves decided to stay at Sevilla for a little while longer. An inauspicious start followed; Sevilla sacked Juande Ramos in October and contracted Sevilla B stalwart, Manolo Jiménez, instead. Even though Jiménez’s first season in charge was nothing to shout about (he went trophyless after losing the UEFA Cup final and finishing fifth in the league), the season did unlock several talents. Dani Alves in particular. The Brazilian finished the season with four goals and 16 assists in all competitions. 

Then came Barcelona. A certain Pep Guardiola decided to splash €35.5m on a 25 year-old Alves, with the deal becoming permanent on July 2, 2008. Most know what followed. Alves went on to become one of the most decorated players of all time, winning the treble twice. He also formed one of the most fearsome attacking duos with Lionel Messi, racking up 100 assists in all competitions in his time in Catalonia. 

Alves’ role in that Guardiola side very much mirrored his personality. He was often eccentric in his play and mostly free to move about. He pretty much played as a right-winger, with Eric Abidal staying back on the other flank. His space creation for Messi is a part of football folklore today, yet it was quite novel back then. He wasn’t the first attacking full-back of course, but Alves changed the definition of the role. He occupied a unique position in that side; acting as both a ball progressor and a runner. Interestingly enough, Alves racked up the most passes to Messi in the period between 2008 and 2015.

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Passes to Messi (Alves, Iniesta and Xavi). 
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Passes to Messi p90. 

Alves was, in many ways, the key to unlocking Messi’s goalscoring form. Whilst Xavi and Iniesta often laid the brickwork, with lateral and vertical passes, it was Alves who played one-twos with Messi and unlocked space in wide channels. False nine Messi’s effectiveness stemmed from his ability to distribute out wide and drift into the box late, capitalising on the return ball. 

Under Pep, Dani became a whirlwind. He could do everything and anything; racking up high defensive numbers on one end of the pitch, and then consequently chipping in in attack. He was a swiss-army decked out in Blaugrana colours. His stay at Barcelona was astonishingly fruitful, adapting to the demands of subsequent coaches as well and shifting aspects of his game to suit their styles. Under Luis Enrique, his hand in build-up play grew, as he became more of a  presence in central channels. 

La Liga Legend #2 | Dani Alves 10
Dani Alves’s xGBuildup in 2015/16.

Alves’ personality may have translated onto the pitch, but not entirely. An otherwise carefree Alves was almost always fierce on the pitch, getting into the thick of things, always vocal in support of his team-mates. He rarely held back, both in his style of play and altercations, and managed to take most setbacks on the chin (the Villareal Banana incident comes to mind). He is still up to the same tricks back in Brazil, now playing as a midfielder for São Paulo. He really is the total footballer, on and off the pitch; eerily consistent on it and vibrant off of it. Joie de Vivre is the term that comes to mind. 

Amer Khosla

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