Dani Alves has been widely regarded as one of the best right-backs in the world for many years now. After signing for Sevilla in 2003, the fast-maturing Brazilian played a pivotal role in the Spanish side's rise to prominence on the European scene, helping the club win back-to-back UEFA Cups in 2005 and 2006.
On the back of those successes Alves became one of the most prized defenders on the European market, and it was Barcelona who eventually landing his signature earlier this year. The buccaneering full-back is better known in Europe than his native Brazil, however, and despite making a vital contribution to his country's triumph at the FIFA U-20 World Cup UAE 2003, Alves would have to wait another three years before graduating to the senior squad.
But when he did make the step-up he showed his worth by scoring one of the goals in the final of the 2007 Copa America, helping Brazil to a comfortable 3-0 defeat of Argentina. It was the right-back's first piece of silverware with the national team, and having tasted international success, Alves is anxious for more. FIFA.com caught up with the 25-year-old and spoke to him exclusively about Sevilla, stepping in for the legendary Cafu, and a new challenge at Barca.
FIFA.com: Dani, let's look back at the early part of your career. You were only 19 when you left Bahia for Sevilla. How did the move come about?
Dani Alves: I was a little fortunate because I was playing for Bahia when I was called up for the South American U-20 championship, a tournament that always attracts the leading scouts from European football. I played well and that's where the Sevilla people first spoke to me and said they were interested in signing me. Before the winter transfer window closed the club reached an agreement with Bahia and that's how I went to Spain.
What were your expectations when you arrived at Sevilla? Did you ever imagine they would go on to win the UEFA Cup twice?
No, I never thought that but I did believe I could be a success in Europe and achieve big things. When I arrived we were a fairly modest team whose main objective was to stay in the first division. We got stronger, though, and fortunately I was able to grow along with the team. Overall, it was a very important step in my career.
What were the main factors in the team's emergence?
Signings played a fundamental part but to my mind the most important thing was that we had a real team spirit. We were motivated and determined to achieve great things, to change Sevilla's image in the Spanish game.
Out of all those signings, which one surprised you the most?
Frederic Kanoute was one of them. I had never seen him play for Tottenham and I was amazed that such a tall player could be so skilful and mobile. He was the focal point of the team, and when Luis Fabiano arrived they formed a strike partnership that commanded a lot of respect from other teams.
When you played at the FIFA U-20 World Cup UAE 2003 you were still adapting at Sevilla, weren't you?
It was during that tournament that Sevilla decided they wanted me for good. Bahia had agreed to loan me out for a season after the South American championship, but I played really well in the UAE and Sevilla had every confidence in me after that. That's when they decided to make the move a permanent one. It was a key point in my career.
After UAE 2003 it was another three years before you were named in the full national team. Why do you think that was? Would things have been different if you had been playing in Brazil?
Maybe I would have had more opportunities. I hadn't spent much time in Brazil so there were some people who didn't know my game, and the national team is so important in Brazil that it's not easy for players who aren't well known to get called up. I was in good form for Sevilla, though, and when people here started to see that I managed to get a place in the squad. I've already helped the national team win one title and my aim now to is keep my place.
I imagine that helping Brazil win the 2007 Copa America and scoring a goal in the final against Argentina was a high point in your career.
Yes, it was definitely the biggest achievement of my international career so far, especially when you consider the rivalry between Brazil and Argentina, the fact it was a final, and that they were the favourites to win. We showed in that game that Brazil are Brazil and that we should always command respect when we go out on the pitch. I helped set up a goal and scored another, which was amazing. Winning your first title is always special.
For 12 whole years, between 1994 and 2006, the right-back slot was occupied by one man, Cafu. Why do you think that no one came through in all that time to challenge for his place?
It's hard to explain a phenomenon like Cafu. He's a fantastic player and a true professional, a role model for others to follow. That's why he was able to maintain a high standard for so long. Like Roberto Carlos on the left flank, he defined an era in the Brazil team. Most players experience ups and downs during their careers but that pair were exceptional, and as their successors in the national team we need follow the example players like them set.
Which of your fellow full-backs do you most admire?
There are a few who are in excellent form at the moment, like Maicon at Inter, or (Juliano) Belletti, although he's playing in midfield for Chelsea rather than right-back. Brazil have some superb full-backs to call on.
Is it fair to say you have more defensive responsibilities for Brazil than you did with Sevilla, for example?
Each situation, at Sevilla, Barcelona and Brazil, is different. We always have to be prepared for little changes and adapt to situations so that we can be as much use as possible for each coach we play under. They all have different styles.
And now that you have spent a few months at Barcelona, how would you describe Pep Guardiola's style?
Right from the start he has shown a tremendous determination to be recognised as a winner on the bench too, and that has really motivated us. I've got no doubt he'll achieve his aim. Pep has a truly unique way of looking at football and I'm sure he'll create an important legacy in world football.
You played several times against the great Barcelona side of Frank Rijkaard and Ronaldinho. Do you think the current team has the potential to be as successful and entertaining as that one?
Every coach and every player tries to create their own legacy and I don't think there's any need to make comparisons. That team earned their place in history by winning titles and playing good football, and that's what we have to go and do, play good football. If we can get the results to go with that, then we will build our legacy.
The UEFA Champions League is a trophy that Barcelona fans are always anxious to win. Would you say you were among the favourites for this year's competition?
Barcelona's such a big club that we're always among the favourites. There's no question about that. This is one of the most difficult competitions there is, though, and it's packed with strong teams with a lot of tradition. It's going to be a real challenge but I think we are ready to take it on.