World Cup 2014 profile: Dani Alves escaped grinding rural poverty after he won a place at academy

Simon Hart talks to the coach who developed him and hears from one former prospect who, like countless others, did not make it

Salvador

Football as an escape route: it is the biggest cliché of the Brazilian game but there is no avoiding it as you step inside Esporte Clube Bahia’s Fazendao training ground. The security gate closes and you leave behind the favela with its potholed roads, half-finished buildings and yellow-and-green plastic bunting, and find in front of you, set against a backdrop of orange-brick shanty housing, an oasis of grass football pitches.

When some 70 per cent of the population live on the minimum wage or much, much less, it is football that helps the dreams of so many young Brazilians take flight.

“Ninety per cent [of footballers] come from the lowest classes and, coming from conditions of poverty, football is an opportunity to rescue themselves, their families and those around them,” explains Nelson Goes, director of the club’s youth department.”

The 80 youths aged between 14 and 20 who live in the unprepossessing dorm blocks up on the hill know that the dream can come true. It was here, after all, that Brazil’s Barcelona full-back Dani Alves – who grew up some 300 miles inland in the small rural outpost of Salitre and was out in the fields helping his father at 5am each morning – began his journey to fame and fortune.

Read more: Neymar a doubt for quarter-final
Brazil's poster boy Neymar is born to handle penalty pressure
Match report: Brazil vs Chile
 

But for every Alves there is a Gervasio Xavier Junior, for whom the dream did not come true. More of him later.

First, Goes, the Under-17s coach, who oversaw Alves’ initial development when he arrived at Bahia in 1999, recalls his 18 months working with him: “He came from the interior of Bahia from a club called Joazeiro. He is from a rural area, which is poor. After one month at the club it seemed like he’d been here a year. He got on with people, he was a joker and liked a laugh. He is a charismatic person but always worked hard and trained at full intensity.

 

“He was very aggressive in his attacking play,” he continues. “In Brazil, this is the full-back’s job. In Europe it’s more conservative but he always had this. We had a three-month state championship at Under-17 level where he scored 10 or 12 goals playing as a full-back.”

Brazil’s Danny Alves remonstrates with the referee Howard Webb during Saturday’s match Brazil’s Danny Alves remonstrates with the referee Howard Webb during Saturday’s match  

By the age of 18, Alves’ break arrived when the absence of the team’s regular full-backs persuaded Bahia’s then coach Evaristo de Macedo –a former Barcelona and Real Madrid player – to throw him into the first team. Alves’ website describes how he marked his debut by scoring a goal and winning a penalty, and Goes remembers: “He came in and he stayed in.” By 2002 he had the golden ticket to Europe with Seville.

Alves embodies the Brazilian football fantasy but, as Goes acknowledges, so few actually live it – indeed, he estimates the chances of any of young player following Alves’ path as “0.01 per cent”.

Alves in action for Barcelona Alves in action for Barcelona  

However, a more typical story is the fate that befell Gervasio Xavier Junior. For every Alves or Neymar there must be a million nearly-men and Junior, 29, is one of them. He is watching the World Cup unfold from inside the press centre at the Arena Fonte Nova, where he manages the canteen.

As a schoolboy growing up in Uruguay, one of Salvador’s poorest neighbourhoods, he trained with both of the local clubs, Vitoria and Bahia, and at 16 an agent arranged a trial for him with Corinthians. His parents begged and borrowed to buy him a ticket for the 24-hour bus journey to Sao Paulo and he remembers the excitement of it all. “Players from all over Brazil. Bunk beds. Lots of joking. High hopes. An opportunity to be in Sao Paolo with Corinthians. It was an adventure.” The memories flash back like a series of holiday snaps.

A physically big man today, he was a powerful midfielder with an eye for a pass and he came through his trial game on the club’s famed Terrao, a football pitch of bare earth. He graduated to the grass and he remembers a striker with “big hair” who was “really skinny but very fast and had so much talent”. Today, while he serves journalists food, he watches that same player – Jo – wear the canary-yellow jersey at his home World Cup.

After Junior’s two months at Corinthians came to nothing, his parents sent him out to work at 16, packing bags in a supermarket. “I stopped playing for a while,” he says, but he kept knocking on doors. Along the way he encountered the conmen who prey on the desperate dream-chasers. “I was picked up by an agent who promised to send me to a club in Parana called Cascavel. When the day came to go, he said: ‘Wait a few days more’. He was trying to trick me to get money. The club didn’t even know he existed. I was 20. I ended up with no job and no club.”

There was later “an email to go on trial with Leeds United”, which came from a Fifa agent to whom he paid a deposit of £800. “Somebody had got the name of a real agent,” he adds. “The money was lost.”

Brazil fans in the streets of Sao Paulo during the win over Chile Brazil fans in the streets of Sao Paulo during the win over Chile  

Eventually, in his early twenties, he realised the dream of playing professional football with a club called Galicia in the second division of Bahia’s state championship. He was paid £160 a month and, because Galicia’s season ran for only six months, the club refused to pay him for the half  of the year   when they had no fixtures. Thus for four years he held down a job as a salesman while playing and training with Galicia. “It was very difficult – not eating right, sleeping badly, combining eight hours’ work and three hours’ training.”

He laments the “corruption and self-interest” encountered on his unglamorous odyssey yet beams his sunshine smile and stresses “football still makes me happy”. He wants to do a coaching course next year but for now simply feels fortunate, in his roundabout way, to have made it to the World Cup. “I am here in this atmosphere – it’s like a gift for me, living football again. Afterwards it will be back to reality.”

News
A 1930 image of the Karl Albrecht Spiritousen and Lebensmittel shop, Essen. The shop was opened by Karl and Theo Albrecht’s mother; the brothers later founded Aldi
people
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmA cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Arts and Entertainment
Flora Spencer-Longhurst as Lavinia, William Houston as Titus Andronicus and Dyfan Dwyfor as Lucius
theatreThe Shakespeare play that proved too much for more than 100 people
News
exclusivePunk icon Viv Albertine on Sid Vicious, complacent white men, and why free love led to rape
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Stir crazy: Noel Fielding in 'Luxury Comedy 2: Tales from Painted Hawaii'
comedyAs ‘Luxury Comedy’ returns, Noel Fielding on why mainstream success scares him and what the future holds for 'The Boosh'
Life and Style
Flow chart: Karl Landsteiner discovered blood types in 1900, yet scientists have still not come up with an explanation for their existence
lifeAll of us have one. Yet even now, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Arts and Entertainment
'Weird Al' Yankovic, or Alfred Matthew, at the 2014 Los Angeles Film Festival Screening of
musicHis latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do our experts think he’s missed out?
Sport
New Real Madrid signing James Rodríguez with club president Florentino Perez
sportColombian World Cup star completes £63m move to Spain
Travel
Hotel Tour d’Auvergne in Paris launches pay-what-you-want
travelIt seems fraught with financial risk, but the policy has its benefits
Arts and Entertainment
booksThe best children's books for this summer
Life and Style
News to me: family events were recorded in the personal columns
techFamily events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped that
Caption competition
Caption competition

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

Honesty box hotels

Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn