Dani Alves: Who dares wins

Barcelona's rampaging full-back Dani Alves tells Pete Jenson at the Nou Camp that attack is the best form of defence – and losers take a step back, as Chelsea did in 2009

Click to follow
The Independent Online

"The riskiest thing you can do in football is not take any risks." It is one of Pep Guardiola's favourite mantras and no player embodies the philosophy behind it quite like Dani Alves.

The player for whom the description "full-back" doesn't even come close tomorrow returns to Stamford Bridge where, in 2009, in an infamous Champions League semi-final, he was typically all over the place – for better and, at times, worse.

He was caught out of position by Ashley Cole in a move that lead to Michael Essien scoring and he wrestled Florent Malouda to the ground for what should have been a Chelsea penalty. But he was also galloping up the right wing three minutes into injury time and it was his cross that eventually came to Leo Messi. He passed to Andres Iniesta, who scored the away goal that put Barcelona into the final.

He who dares wins – and he who dares lots wins 18 trophies in six years at club level. No one can match Alves' average of three pieces of silverware a season since 2006.

We are in the Barcelona office where his website, danialves.com, has been created. He is suited, booted and only missing the oversized glasses and pork pie hat that he has taken to wearing recently at the Nou Camp, for games when he has been injured or suspended – the nutty boy image is one of the reasons his record is so often overlooked.

"The worst thing that can happen to you as a professional is to be in the hotel after the game with a coffee or a beer, and to realise you could have done more," he says. And has that ever happened to him? "No, never." The cabinet full of his medals and trophies is a testament to his words.

Alves dismisses the argument that Chelsea's elimination in 2009 was down to the Norwegian psychologist and part-time referee Tom Henning Ovrebo. "People say Chelsea could have won but for the referee but that is not our problem. We were there to play football, to compete. Chelsea did not reach the final because of fear.

"There's no doubt that was the hardest game we've played but a team with a man advantage [Barça's Eric Abidal was sent off] playing at home and winning should have attacked us more. But if you don't have that concept of football then you take a step back, and then another step back, until you end up out.

"It's the losers who take the step back – the winners are the ones who take the step forward. I think Chelsea lacked the courage to take that step forward."

And what of the then Chelsea manager Guus Hiddink's decision to replace the injured Didier Drogba with a defender, Juliano Belletti, with 20 minutes to go? Alves has not forgotten the message it sent out. "We realised that they had renounced the game. We realised that at 1-0 they were satisfied. All they did is get the ball and then get rid of it. They gifted us possession. And the worst thing you can do with Barcelona is give us possession."

The irony, of course, was that Alves could have been hurtling forward – or more likely being waved furiously back into position – in a Chelsea shirt that night. Roman Abramovich wanted to sign him from Sevilla in 2007 but they wanted to keep him in their first season in the Champions League. Chelsea had also balked at paying more than £20m for a "mere" defender – which, of course, Alves is not.

"I am a full-back with possibilities," he says. "I come from the Brazilian school where the emphasis is always on attack and where I was brought up to play in all positions."

But it is a myth that Alves cannot defend. It is just that at Barcelona it sometimes isn't his primary job, or as he puts it – it's everybody's job: "Everyone has to help attack and everyone has to help defend."

Barcelona and Alves were always the perfect fit. When he describes the team talk prior to last season's European final win over Manchester United, you can tell he speaks the same language as his manager.

"The only thing that Guardiola asked us to do was attack," he says. "It's the only way to win against teams that are strong physically. We were playing the final at Wembley... what more could we ask for?"

Comments