Speaking during an an exclusive interview, Barcelona left-back Dani Alves spoke frankly about his Brazil career, the upcoming FIFA World Cup and his continuing efforts to bring Neymar to Barça.
If there is just one thing Brazil has become known for during the course of its rich football history, then it is the ease with which it produces world-class full-backs. The list has grown long since Carlos Alberto lit up the 1970s with his thrilling displays, including more recent additions in the likes of Cafu, Roberto Carlos, Maicon, Marcelo and, of course, Dani Alves.
The buccaneering Alves has made a compelling contribution to a Barcelona side that has revolutionised world football with its spectacular performances and insatiable appetite for trophies. Now 29, the Bahia-born defender is also one of the most experienced members of a Brazil side that is working against the clock as it prepares to host the FIFA Confederations Cup and the FIFA World Cup™ in front of its ever-demanding fans.
Mulling over those challenges and more, Alves sat down for a revealing chat with FIFA.com at last month’s FIFA Ballon d’Or Gala.
FIFA.com: How do you feel about your fellow professionals voting you the best right-back in the world in 2012?
Dani Alves: It’s an amazing feeling to be here at the FIFA Ballon d’Or Gala. It’s always a privilege to be sharing a night like this with so many people from football’s past and present, especially when you’re here to receive recognition for the work you’ve done throughout the year. Obviously it’s easier to pick up individual awards when you play for a great side in a team sport. I get a lot of enjoyment out of it.
Does it make it even more special to be receiving the award from your professional colleagues?
There’s no doubt about it, because you know that recognition has got nothing to do with how popular or unpopular you might be with the fans. It comes from people who know the job and how difficult it is. They know what they’re talking about and that’s what makes it special. All I can do is thank them for their vote, their affection and their recognition. We always try to please people and enjoy the magic that football creates, and I know very well that there are a lot of players who could be here in my place. That’s why I feel so privileged.
Injuries were a problem for you in 2012. Do you wish you’d played more?
Yes, of course. It’s almost as if all the injuries I’ve never had in my career have happened to me now. The way I see it, though, it’s not a question of why they’ve happened but what I can take from them. I think I’ve had to go through this to be able to appreciate the things I don’t necessarily see when I’m focusing on my job. It’s been good for me in that I’ve matured and learned things. That’s the way I look at it. When you’re loyal to your work and you’re a model professional, then everything falls back into place. Right now I’m very happy to have started the year playing and I hope I can stay fit and play a part.
This last year has also seen changes in the Brazil team. What can new coach Luiz Felipe Scolari bring to the side?
Whenever there are changes you always hope they’re going to be for the better. In our case we hope it brings a little bit of stability so that we can regain respect as a national team, for all the players and the tradition we have behind us. They’ve gone for Brazil’s last World Cup-winning coach and that says an awful lot. He commands respect. It’s hard to win any competition, and he’s been there and done it, and I hope he can come in and give us the stability we’ve perhaps been lacking. We’ve got two very important competitions coming up in our own backyard, in front of our own people, and whatever help we can get along the way is fantastic as far as we’re concerned. We want to give our people hope again.
A lot of people feel Brazil are favourites to win the FIFA Confederations Cup and the FIFA World Cup because they’re the host nation. There’s bound to be lots of pressure as well though. Is the team ready to live with that?
If anyone’s not ready, they’ve only got six months to sort themselves out, because that’s when we’re playing and you have to be prepared for it. It’s true that we’ve got some young players, but they’ve got experience and they’ve won things with their clubs. To my mind the kick you get out of playing for your country in such big competitions more than makes up for any problems it might involve. We’re excited about it more than anything else.
You haven’t had much competitive football lately, what with not taking part in the qualifiers. Are you looking forward to playing in an official tournament?
Absolutely. You miss not being able to compete, and when you reach an official tournament you really do have to compete. You can take friendlies as seriously as you want, but in those games you don’t have the responsibility of knowing that if you lose it’s all over, that you could be out of a competition like the World Cup in your own country. Footballers thrive on that pressure. It keeps you alive, keeps you focused on what you want. And that’s what makes a team. The highs and lows of a competition bring you together. But that’s the way it is, and we just have to live with it. Excuses are for losers. And there are no losers in the national team because you have to overcome some very big hurdles to get there. We play football. We get a kick out of something we love doing, and when you put love and desire into your work then there’s no such thing as pressure.
Ronaldo recently said that Brazil are no longer among the best five teams in the world. Do you agree?
That’s more or less the way I see it. Our national team hasn’t been able to develop because it hasn’t been playing any competitive football. We’ve also got some very young players who are going through a very fast and significant process, and they’re the ones who are going to fly the flag for us at the World Cup. The idea is to use the Confederations Cup to consolidate the team and compete as a unit. There’s still a year and a half to go before the World Cup and in that time we absolutely have to come up with a team. In the end, like I said before, the World Cup’s going to go ahead whether we find a team or not. We’ll have to carry the hopes of a nation with what we’ve got. And whether you like it or not, that’s a burden, a responsibility. The important thing is that everyone takes a good look at themselves and knows exactly what it means to play for this jersey. With that kind of attitude we’ll be able to build a great team because there’s more than enough quality there.
We saw you having a very animated conversation with Neymar a few minutes ago. Were you trying to talk him into moving to Barcelona?
Yes, you bet. I’ve been at it for ages (laughs). When the rumours of him making a move to Europe started I told him he should come to Barcelona. It’s more than a club. The motto says it all: they look after you, they pamper you and they always treat you and your family well. Look, it’s got values that virtually no other club has, and that’s what makes it unique. Everyone says you can’t compete with Barcelona, but if you go to the club, you’ll see that they work from the bottom up and that’s why we’ve got all these great players. If you look at the signings they make, they just buy what they need. The rest of the players are all from the youth set-up. They made a commitment to it and the results are there. We’ve got two team-mates fighting it out for the Ballon d’Or, which just goes to show the quality that’s there, and all without spending astronomical amounts on players.
What surprised you most when you arrived at the club?
I thought it was strange that they didn’t sign players on the strength of their reputation or how famous they are. They do the opposite. When they sign someone they think about where he’d fit in the side and the job he can do. And when you’ve got foundations like that you’re only going to grow as a team. It’s not something you can do in a couple of days. It takes years and years and years. Every one of us in this Barcelona side today should feel privileged. Playing for this club is good for your health, good for everything, and you really find out what human, footballing and competitive values are all about. It’s the best club and the best team in the world, without question.