Dani Alves is number 8 in 90min’s Top 20 Greatest Footballers of the Decade series. Follow the rest of the series over the course of the next two weeks.
?Daniel Alves da Silva: the facts.
The most decorated footballer of all time who, in the second half of his career, has won 25 club trophies in the last decade. For three different teams. In three different countries.
The best right-back in the world (see: FIFPro World XI) seven out of the last ten years, beaten out by Maicon (2010) and Sergio Ramos (2014 and presumably 2019, although no position breakdown was released). MVP at the 2019 Copa America.
Dani Alves: the opinions.
The best right-back of his generation. The most complete attacking full-back of all time. One of the most fun footballers to watch, full stop. Football’s greatest exponent of social media. The single best-dressed player of this or any other century.
Dani Alves: Dani Alves.
Brazil’s right-back is a singularly fascinating player to watch, and that’s barely the half of what makes him one of football’s most beloved characters.
The decade started with Alves at ?Barcelona, having earned his move to Catalunya with a series of utterly dominant performances for Sevilla, where he was right-back, right winger and number ten all rolled into one. That Sevilla team pivoted around his abilities, and won two consecutive UEFA Cups and a Copa del Rey; finishing just five points from the title one season to boot.
His time in Andalusia may still be the most impressive spell of his career – but we’re here to talk about this decade, not the last one. This decade, which started when ?Alves was already 26 years old, when he had just one league title to his name.
As we end the decade, he has nine.
All of players on this all-decade list have been outstanding in their positions and some – Manuel Neuer, Arjen Robben for e.g. – have ushered in a new way of playing the role. Alves doesn’t fall into that second category, because there literally isn’t anyone who has the skillset to do all of the things that he does.
Speaking just last week to ?The Guardian, he said: “I’ll be sincere, I created a new way of playing as a full-back. No false modesty. I am always adapting to my teammates. If they’re wide, I’ll go into the middle. If they’re attacking, I’ll help with the control. If the ball’s on the other side, I tuck in. I play as a creative midfielder from the back.”
He’s credited Pep Guardiola for his tactical nous in the past, but that doesn’t explain away Sevilla. Maybe Pep improved him – he improves most players – but Alves’ career is his own. The arrival of Juanfran at Sao Paulo this summer has allowed the three-time Champions League winner to move into what is essentially a wandering midfield role, which…at this point, why not?
Barcelona gave up on him in 2016, letting him leave for free despite having him under contract for a further year. He signed for Juventus, promptly broke his leg and – at the age of 33 – fought his way back to full fitness in time to single-handedly put his new team in the Champions League final; controlling both legs against Monaco and either assisting or scoring all of Juve’s goals.
Juventus, too, let him go a year early…so he went to Paris Saint-Germain and won six trophies in a two-year stint in France, because he’s Daniel Alves da Silva, and Daniel Alves da Silva doesn’t believe in the concept of being finished.
Just this summer, his contract at the Parc des Princes ended. He went to the Copa America as a free agent and lifted not only the trophy, but the Player of the Tournament award. As an unattached 36-year-old. Dani. Goddamn. Alves.
Sao Paulo isn’t a retirement home for him, they just happened to be the only club who would give him a contract to take him through to the next World Cup. He’ll be 39 when everything kicks off in Qatar, and Alves wants to be there. Imagine betting against him.
In the meantime, he continues to be one of a relatively small handful of Brazilian footballers who has taken a stand against fascist president Jair Bolsonaro – calling on him to retract “remarks made during the campaign and treat all people as human beings, regardless of their gender, their social status or their sexual orientation.”
Bolsonaro (obviously) didn’t back down, but in a political climate which has seen a large number of big names endorse the hard-right leader – including Ronaldinho, Rivaldo and Lucas Moura – Alves’ willingness to go against the grain and stand up for his own values say something about him as a man.
A word on Alves the man, while we’re here. One of the most revisited moments of his career came at El Madrigal in 2014, when a Villarreal fan (David Campaya Lleo) threw a banana at him during a break in play. And not in the ‘you need a little pick-me-up, have an energy boost’ way.
Alves picked the banana up, peeled it, took a bite and carried on with the game. The aftermath of the match – a reasonably spectacular one, a comeback to win from 2-0 down in the first game after Tito Vilanova’s tragic passing – was dominated by the incident. Players worldwide posted pictures on social media of themselves taking bites from bananas, a movement which Alves distanced himself from.
One of the most flamboyant athletes from any sport off the pitch, taking part in outrageous fashion photoshoots and the suchlike, there’s a seriousness to Alves that underlines his joking nature; speaking candidly (if pessimistically) about racial issues in the wider world and in the sport.
Sometimes, though, he’s just wacky. When Barcelona were knocked out of the Champions League by Atletico Madrid in Alves’ final season at the club, he posted a video on Instagram in which he dressed up as his wife, put on a falsetto voice and consoled himself for the defeat. Luis Enrique dropped him for the team’s next game, although no second video was forthcoming to console Alves for being left out of the team.
He’s…look, he’s Dani Alves. There’s never been anyone else like him before, there will never be anyone like him again. We’ve only got a few years left of him, enjoy him while you can.
Number 20 – Arjen Robben: The Flying Dutchman Who Became a Modern Legend at Bayern Munich
Number 19 – Mohamed Salah: The Humble King Who Conquered Rome and Took Liverpool By Storm
Number 18 – Sergio Aguero: The Man Who Painted Manchester Blue With One Kick of a Football
Number 17 – Manuel Neuer: The Bayern Munich & Germany Legend Who Revolutionised Goalkeeping
Number 16 – Eden Hazard: The Brilliant Belgian Who Mesmerised Fans Across the World
Number 15 – Zlatan Ibrahimovic: The Man Who Needs No Introduction
Number 14 – Toni Kroos: The Underrated Jahrhunderttalent Who Was There for the Biggest Occasions
Number 13 – Giorgio Chiellini: The Juventus Legend Who Has Always Found a Way to Win
Number 12 – Marcelo: From Favela Kickabouts Under Grandad’s Watch to 4 Champions League Wins
Number 11 – Robert Lewandowski: Bayern Munich’s Best Foreign Player & Europe’s Most Underrated Star in History
Number 10 – Neymar Jr: Brazil’s Generational Talent Who Dictated the Greatest Champions League Night in History
?Number 9 – Gareth Bale: The Cursed Talent Who Went on to Conquer Europe Four Times