Since he was very young, Daniel Alves had a sense that, one day, fame would come his way. Those in his inner circle confirm he used to continually practise his signature so as to be ready for when the time came to sign autographs. Now, at the age of 32, the Brazilian can look back on having made his dreams come true.
Or most of them at least. Well accustomed to notoriety, the Seleção and FC Barcelona right-back also has to live with the darker side to his profession. Brushes with the press, his life away from Brazil and a possible return to the club where he first made the breakthrough were all on the menu in an exclusive chat with FIFA.com, as well as the state of the Brazilian game and key factors in the success of Luis Enrique’s Barça.
FIFA.com: Dani, you’ve been living in Spain for 13 years now. How much has that impacted on your personality and what do you miss most about Brazil?
Dani Alves: It’s had a pretty big impact, of course. It was in Europe that I passed from adolescence into adulthood, and where I’ve experienced a very significant evolution both as a player and as a person. I think it was the right decision [to come here]. In Brazil what I miss most are the people, how passionate they are – how they express themselves at matches. Here we’re used to something else, a calmer way of showing your support (smiles). A more detached way, no? But you get used to it because you’re doing what you love, you don’t give it too much thought.
Brazilian players are moving abroad at an increasingly young age: is that a positive or negative trend?
It’s negative, though it’s clear that players do it out of concern for their families’ stability. Nowadays in Brazil, that stability doesn’t exist. Clubs aren’t well enough organised to keep hold of those players, which is why they leave in search of something better or a more solid career path.
There’s a sense that, perhaps due to this young talent drain, Brazilian and Argentinian football produce fewer world-class players than in previous decades. Would you agree?
I’d agree, in part. A national team is a reflection of its country’s football, and both Brazil and Argentina have earned respect for what they’ve achieved. Subsequently, though, football has evolved and we’ve fallen a bit behind. We’re in the process of trying to improve every day, fighting to be able to compete at the very highest level. But, at the end of the day, our players are in the world’s biggest leagues and it’s obvious we’d like our national team to be at the very top too.
Talking of being young in Brazil, it’s clear that you’ve always been drawn to the idea of being famous. Is it true that when you were a boy you used to practise signing autographs?
Yes! (laughs) I knew that I’d commit myself to music or football, and either of those would need me to sign autographs. I didn’t expect things to turn out as well as they did, getting to play for a big club and for Brazil… My dreams were smaller than that, but everything turned out incredibly well.
That being the case, is there anything you don’t like about being Dani Alves?
Of course. I don’t like a lot of what surrounds football (smiles). I like the sport itself, but there’s currently too much ‘tabloid-style' reporting around, and that takes a bit of the enjoyment out of the game. We’re always in the eye of the hurricane. By a certain type of press, we’re judged and pre-judged. It used to be what happened on the pitch that generated interest, now it’s what happens off it.
In that context, you appear more confrontational now than before. Why’s that?
Because I get a bit tired of it all. I enjoy talking about football much more, about what players do on the pitch. Players earn their wages, their livelihoods and their right to compete to win things out on the pitch and not off it. But then, when you express an opinion it’s frowned upon, because people are only capable of receiving praise – never criticism. Even if it’s your humble opinion, you know? But well, if I think something, whether it’ll go down well or badly, I’ll always say it. I’m a free man and free to give my opinion too.
Let’s stick to football in that case. Do you think this is the best Barcelona team you’ve been part of?
We’ve seen an incredible version of this team over the last five or six years and, when people thought we couldn’t keep it going, we’ve gone and done it again. That’s the kind of footballing stability you dream of having in your career. We’ve maintained our desire to keep competing and that takes us to where we are. You’re aware that your opponents, at the end of the day, also prepare well and might beat you, but that feeling and that desire that we have won’t be witnessed in another team for a while. It’s unique, incredible. For those who are genuinely passionate about football, Barça are worthy of admiration.
The spotlight tends to fall most on Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar, but where does Dani Alves fit in?
The cameras are drawn to them because they’re great! But as I keep saying, football is a collective game, not just about the attackers. I’d use the example of a colleague of mine, [Javier] Mascherano, who had an incredible World Cup [Brazil 2014] and could have been in contention for the [tournament’s] best player award… But the thing is, those whose job it is to “break up” the play, don’t have the same media impact. In football, I’ve always been about adapting to what’s asked of me, to what my team-mates need from me. I’m a team player. At Barcelona we all think like that, and that’s the key to our success. The press are free to choose who to talk about, but nobody here is egotistical. It’s difficult to get so many stars together and for them all to stay humble, which is why we’ve got a team to take your hat off to.
And once that comes to an end, what’s next for you? A spell in Brazilian football?
I’ve already promised that I’d end my career where I started it [at Bahia], as a way of thanking those who gave me the chance to make my name in football. I want to have a spell there before I retire, but one that’s enjoyable for me and for them too. I’ll be sure to stay in shape so that I can go back and not be a disappointment! (laughs). The idea is for it to be fun for everybody involved, and then call it a day.
And after that, from what you’ve said, it seems unlikely you’ll stay involved in the world of football, right?
I enjoy gastronomy, music and fashion, so I’ll end up involved in one of those three areas– or all three! They’re things I have a passion for, and I only do what I’m passionate about. [I feel that way about] football too, but it’s unlikely I’ll stay involved in it. There are a lot of things I don’t like about it, and I always go where I feel good and at home. I like energy to flow in a positive way, not in the direction of outside interests.