Argentinian midfielder Andres D’Alessandro is nothing if not adaptable. A veteran of the German, English and Spanish top flights with Wolfsburg, Portsmouth and Real Zaragoza respectively, the 31-year-old is now starring on Brazilian soil with Internacional. In the meantime, D’Alessandro has had to come to terms with a stop-start international career, having gone from hot prospect to man on the fringes.
Discussing his European experiences, the thrill of representing his country at the Olympics and his enduring love for River Plate, he sat down for a chat with FIFA.com.
FIFA.com: You’ve spoken a few times about your dreams of winning the Brazilian title. What’s the standard of the competition like?
Andres D’Alessandro: Anyone who’s been watching the Brasileirao for a few years is better qualified to talk about it than me, but the standard’s been very high since I arrived and it’s getting better and better. There’s always going to be quality in a country like this because it produces so much talent. That’s just the way it is. Absolutely every team has players who can make the difference, players who can turn games. In the last few years the Brazilian championship has become incredibly competitive, with ten or 12 teams in the frame for the title before the season begins. And they’re big teams too – teams that are always under pressure to win. That’s what makes the Brasileirao different to most leagues around the world. The Argentinian league is maybe the only one that comes close to it in that respect.
One of those young talents is Neymar. How does he match up to Lionel Messi, a player you’ve seen grow to become the world’s best?
Messi’s totally out there on his own. To my mind he’s the best in the world by a distance, with Cristiano Ronaldo one level below. The most incredible thing about Messi is not how good he is now but the fact he’s been that good for years. To maintain that level for so long is just mind-blowing. And that’s what strikes me about Neymar too. He’s been playing really well for some time and even though defenders are paying more attention to him, he keeps on getting better. He keeps on delivering more and more and he enjoys himself while he’s at it, which isn’t easy at all. He’ll need to make the move to Europe at some point, but you can’t fault him for the progress he’s made here.
You made the switch to Europe. What’s the hardest thing about it?
Neymar has an advantage over me in that people around the world already know who he is. He should go to a big team and command a starting place straightaway. Obviously it’s a different game over there but with his talent I’m sure he’ll adapt. The hard part is adapting to your new life: a different language, different culture and different day-to-day routine. When you move to another country the toughest challenge is feeling good.
Neymar will need to make the move to Europe at some point, but you can’t fault him for the progress he’s made here.
Do you think you could have achieved more during your stay in Europe?
I honestly don’t think so, and I’m pretty clear on that. I never played for one of Europe’s really big clubs, and had some great experiences instead with teams like Portsmouth. They were one off the bottom and 11 points from safety when I arrived, and we stayed up thanks to a last-day draw against Arsenal. Of course, people don't see those things. Why should they? I know how much I enjoyed myself in Europe and how much I developed there. Football has changed a lot lately and there are a lot of leagues where it’s hard to find teams that play with a deep-lying playmaker, which is my original position. I’ve had to adapt, and that’s helped me learn other positions. In England, for example, I played wide on the left, and in Spain on the right.
You were out of the Argentina side from November 2010 through to the friendlies against Brazil last September and you haven’t been called on since. Have you lost all hope of wearing the Albiceleste jersey again?
No, I haven’t given up hope, but it’s been a while since I last got the call, so inevitably my priorities have changed. I want to carry on playing well for Inter, and if I get another chance then that would be great. It depends on me having a good season here.
Does playing in Brazil make it harder?
I’m pretty close to home. Obviously you don’t get to see all the Brazilian league games if you’re in Argentina, but you never know. I’m in South America, not Europe, and I’m playing at the highest level you can get.
Why do you think Argentina haven’t been stringing good performances together lately?
The one thing we’ve definitely got most of is quality, but we don’t have the time to develop these great players. We’ve got the most important thing and that’s the best player in the world. It’s just a question now of looking after him and building a team around him.
How special was it to win gold at the Men’s Olympic Football Tournament Athens 2004 with the likes of Carlos Tevez and Javier Saviola?
It was fantastic, not just because it one of the biggest titles you can win after the World Cup, but because it’s a totally difference experience for a football player. There are a few things that remind you of your days at youth level, like staying in a residence and having lunch in a canteen. It’s a very healthy atmosphere and you really feel like an amateur. You’re there living and breathing sport thanks to the contact you have with people from other events.
Did you meet anyone special at the Olympic Village in Athens?
We saw [Roger] Federer but I was too shy to go and ask him for a photo (laughs). We also met the girls from the hockey team and the Argentinian basketball squad, who won the gold medal. It was amazing to be with people like [Emanuel] Ginobili. We had to make the most of it.