The role of the full-back has changed significantly over the last decade or so. Cafu, Roberto Carlos and more recently Philipp Lahm have all been essential to their club and national sides’ successes. All three are, or were, world-class footballers but the man who changed the role so impressively is Dani Alves.
Pep Guardiola‘s all conquering Barcelona sides were obviously one of the most attractive sides to have ever played the game. A forward three of Lionel Messi, Samuel Eto’o and Thierry Henry or Messi, David Villa and Pedro were two of the most threatening strike forces in Europe. Despite changes to the attack, one constant in the side was Dani Alves at right-back.
As a youngster Alves played as a winger but was moved into defence after failing to score enough. After spending six seasons with Sevilla, Alves moved to Barcelona in a deal worth £23 million, with add ons. Alves immediately struck up an impressive partnership down the right wing with Lionel Messi. Over-lapping runs made the Alves – Messi partnership one of the most impressive forces in Europe.
“His signing is very good news for the club. Along with Messi, if they work together, we will have the best right flank in the world.”
Pep Guardiola upon Alves’ signing for Barcelona
Alves’ performances were reminiscent of a peak Cafu. Alves’ athleticism allowed him to provide an extra option in attack for Barça as well as allowing him to get back into position when defending. It was clear very early on that Dani Alves was on course to become the best full-back in the world.
Ever since Carlos Alberto, Giacinto Facchetti or even Gianluca Zambrotta, full-backs have been important in a team’s tactical approach, but none more so in the modern game than Alves’ has a full-back been so important to a team. For the majority of the 90 minutes, Alves played as an extra winger, allowing Messi to occupy a false nine or inside right position, allowing Barcelona to overload the final third.
Of course, that crop of Barça players were so good that they were able to dominate possession every game and rarely had to defend, other than against the better sides in La Liga and the Champions League.
Other than Philipp Lahm, it’s not easy to find many more consistently world-class defenders. So many modern full-backs are fantastic going forward but are often found out defensively. Dani Alves was so reliable when in his own penalty area. Often the favourite on one-on-one situations, Alves dealt with numerous wingers throughout his time in Spain.
As good as Lahm has been for Bayern and Germany, Alves has been the best right-back in the world for at least a decade. Despite not winning anything with Brazil, it hasn’t been for a lack of trying. Alves’ infectious, happy personality and professionalism has seen him been a leader in dressing rooms for both Brazil and Barcelona.
In June 2016, after 8 incredibly successful years with Barcelona, a 33 year old Alves decided it was time for a new challenge. On 27th June Juventus confirmed the signing of Dani Alves on a free transfer. Upon his move to Turin, Alves explained why he left the comfort of Barcelona.
“I have to say that I didn’t feel as comfortable any more at Barça. Things changed at a club level, and as time went on, I always seemed to be the one in the firing line. ‘Dani’s the one who has to go,’ they’d say. I just got tired of it. I decided to head off in a new direction and find happiness somewhere else.”
Never afraid to speak what’s on his mind, Alves’ honest and emotional comments on Barcelona might reveal regret over how his Barcelona career ended, but his form for Juventus this season has seen him adapt well to Serie A and has been one of the standout players in this seasons Champions League.
After coming up against his former club in the quarter-finals, Alves was able to keep Neymar reasonably quiet over both legs. Even after picking up an early yellow card in the first leg, Alves used his experience well to defend astutely and attack when needed.
Alves rolled back the years against Monaco in the first leg of the semi-final, putting in a man of the match display in which he assisted both of Gonzalo Higuaín’s goals.
Dani Alves’ game by numbers vs. Monaco:
100% take-ons completed
3 chances created
3 tackles won
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) May 3, 2017
If there was any doubt as to whether he was the same player that roamed freely at Barça, his performance against Monaco proves that he still has plenty left in the tank, even if he is just days from his 34th birthday.
Even in his thirties, Alves still plays the game with a smile on his face with a desire to entertain and win every game he plays. Athletic, tactically clever and able to defend as well as he can attack, Dani Alves has proven over the last 10 years that he deserves to be considered as one of the best full-backs of all time.