For Diego Alves, it was business as usual in Valencia’s UEFA Champions League group clash with Chelsea last month, when his shot-stopping heroics proved vital in ensuring Los Chés avoided defeat against the big-spending Premier League side. What differed on this occasion, however, was the media attention his performance generated. Alves had put on many equally fine displays for previous club Almeria while attracting significantly less column inches – proof of just how far the Brazilian has come.
“That was the day I really noticed how different it is being at a big club,” the custodian told FIFA.com, in reference to 28 September’s 1-1 draw. “To be honest, I had loads of games for Almeria when I played even better, but the repercussions of a good performance in the Champions League against a team of Chelsea’s stature are totally different. It’s also nice to know I was able to help the team on a big occasion like that.”
Alves’ four years with Los Rojiblancos, a team whose primary objective at the start of each campaign was Primera Division survival, have clearly stood him in good stead. And while Almeria finally failed in that mission in 2010/11, Alves’ individual displays meant it became almost inevitable he would not follow the club into the second tier.
“It came about pretty naturally. Once the offer came in from Valencia I didn’t need to think twice, while Almeria also understood how important it was for me to make the leap to playing Champions League football and challenging for trophies,” said the 26-year-old from Rio de Janeiro. “I played very well for four years there and I needed to make this step up. I’d gone as far as I could with the club. It was a shame we went down into the second division, but at least I know that I played well.”
Starring for the humble Andalusian outfit was enough to earn Alves a switch to a leading La Liga side but another of his career objectives, playing for Brazil’s senior side, remains stubbornly out of reach. “It’s hard to compete with keepers like Julio Cesar, Doni and Gomes when they’re always playing in the biggest competitions and their games are on TV all the time,” said the Valencia No1. “There’s no way I could compete with those guys while at Almeria: you have to work twice as hard just to get noticed.”
Even so, a player who represented his country at the FIFA U-20 World Cup 2005 in the Netherlands did enough with Almeria to be called up by A Seleção for the Olympic Football Tournament 2008. “Of course it’s one of my objectives and I know that, now I’m with Valencia, I ought to get more opportunities. But that’ll depend on me continuing to do my job well,” said Alves, who was also selected by current Brazil boss Mano Menezes for a training camp in Barcelona in September 2010.
“That’s why for now I’m just happy to be here and focusing on doing well for this club. If and when the moment comes, I’ll think about A Seleção,” continued the Brazilian, who so far this season has been vying with gifted young Spanish keeper Vicente Guaita for the right to be Valencia’s first-choice.
Aside from those two burning ambitions – cementing his spot between the sticks at club level and forcing his way back into national-team contention – Alves has other weighty footballing issues on his mind. “Yeah, things are looking really bleak for us,” he said on the plight of his beloved Atletico-MG, currently fighting to stay in the Brazilian top flight.
“I say ‘us’ because that’s how I feel: I’m Atleticano and I follow their games from here in Spain. I’m really sharing their suffering,” added Alves, who graduated from the club's youth ranks and became a fans’ favourite, particularly thanks to his role in their 2006 promotion campaign. “I’ve been in that situation, down in Serie B, and I know how painful that was for all of Atletico’s many fans. Those guys deserve to have a year with something to celebrate.”
This time, however, should Atletico fall through the Serie A trapdoor they will not have Alves to help them bounce straight back. Yet refreshingly, despite having now swapped relegation tussles for Champions League recognition and Brazil contention, their former idol has clearly not forgotten O Galo.