Dani Alves exudes charisma in abundance. The one from Juazeiro enjoys like nobody else when it comes to talking about football, “which saved my life,” and about Barça. Enemy of the clichés, the Brazilian analyzes in SPORT the news of the Blaugrana club in an interview in which he shows his incontestable sincerity. He speaks about his future, Xavi’s project, the transfer market – with Erling Haaland and Kylian Mbappé as the main protagonists – and the possible return of Leo Messi for a “last dance.” “No one has my energy. I can guarantee that”, he says when explaining his way of understanding life and the sport he loves so much. Undoubtedly, in this, he is not mistaken.
You are the footballer with the most titles in history (44), the oldest player to play an official match and score a goal for Barça. Your biography is well known. Where do you find the motivation and hunger for titles that have always characterized you?
I think it’s a demonstration of perseverance, respect for your profession, of love for what you do. Enjoy too. When I decided to play football to start my career, I wanted to always give my best while it lasted until I felt like it. My desire is still intact. I can continue contributing things, competing, and living the profession as it should be done. The sky is the limit. Human being lives setting limits, but I believe that we have to be unlimited every day. We have to depend on our desire, not on someone telling us that we can’t do this or that. What comes out of me at the moment is to continue playing and enjoying.
How was your return managed?
When I terminated with Sao Paulo, I decided to stay without a team to plan my next step. I had options in Brazil and other teams. I wanted to return to Europe to go to the World Cup. I thought that the only way to increase my chances was to be on a high-level stage. European competitions are a remarkable stage. I wanted to show that I’m still worth it and still doing things the way I’ve always done them. I was waiting for the market to open so I could choose where to go. I did not imagine that it could be Barça, but I did have that tingling. The lightbulb went off for me when I saw that people were not happy and that my possibilities were opening up. I sent a message to Joan (Laporta). I had already told him more than once that I was free and could help. He understood the difficulty of the moment, that the club was not working and that hiring a 38-year-old player was not the best possible message. People forgot, however, that this player’s name is Dani Alves.
After 400 games with the Barça shirt, are you still the same footballer who arrived at Camp Nou in 2008?
Football is like life: one detail changes everything. Nobody has my energy. I can guarantee that. I always try to make people have a good time. This profession is for this. If you enjoy it, the people around you will too. The years change, the clothes, but not who we are. Nothing has changed at the level of energy, predisposition, happiness, and achievement. I come from building an incredible career, and I have reached the top. I have no time to waste. I’m back at the best club in the world. Football and life have given me back everything I’ve done for this club, for this shield. I am the only historic Barça player who has neither had a farewell nor an official photo with the trophies.
For something specific?
Because I didn’t want to, I had this tingle that he would return. When I went to Juventus, they had questions about me here, and I wanted to go out and prove things. Time passed, and my return got complicated. We have to be realistic. It was now or never. In the end, luckily, everything went well.
You arrived at a wounded team in a crisis of results and identity. Now, this Barça is capable of accumulating 14 games without losing and scoring at the Bernabéu. Did the 0-4 make you horny?
Other things also make me horny, but I must confess that the 0-4 did, too (laughs). I have lived historic moments against Madrid. The 0-4 was special because it was a sign that we were coming back in the best possible scenario. Barça competes again and excites people regardless of what we achieve at the end of the season. The fans went to Camp Nou without knowing what they would see. Respect for the club had been lost. Everyone now knows that we are a competitive team. And that we are going to sweat the shirt.
What has been the key to this metamorphosis?
The mood has changed. At Barça, you have to come to work thinking you have the best job and that you must suffer during the week to enjoy the games. The only thing we’ve done is make the squad understand that if we don’t pedal now, when are we going to? We have to get excited every day if we don’t sweat, bad.
How was the mood when you arrived?
I found myself in a locker room with low self-esteem for whatever reason. You can’t perform at your best if you don’t believe in yourself. It is essential to feel more handsome, more interesting, and it is a mental issue. When the mind is weak, what comes from the outside can destroy you. Why can’t I be today what I was in the past? I can be much more even.
What can you tell us about Xavi as a coach? How would you define him?
I like the most that even in the coaching staff, there are two blocks, one more experienced and the other younger. This combination is necessary to maintain a tradition and, simultaneously, the young people make the revolution. You don’t have to rush the process, and it has to be something natural. This isn’t a 100-meter sprint, and it’s a marathon. It is harmony, balance, and respect.
You got to know him thoroughly in his version as a player. Is it very different?
Xavi’s secret is hard work. We have to fight and do what we have always done. The only thing that has changed is that he is now a coach, and his point of view is the same as when he was playing. We are working very hard. It’s the first time since I’ve been at Barça that I’ve worked like this.
More than during Guardiola’s period?
Yes. With no one, have we worked like this on a physical level? It is also important to note that football has changed. Guardiola had a lot of good players, and we didn’t have to run up and down. We recovered many balls in the opposite field. Now, from time to time, it is time to run and, for that, we need an excellent physical tone. Now the work we did before is not enough for us.
Are Guardiola and Xavi similar?
I already said ten years ago that Xavi would be Barça’s Guardiola 3.0. Because of how he understands the game, because of the adaptation of his football to current needs, and because he knows the house and what is necessary here. You always have to find good executors to practice the style, which is the great secret of a good coach.
We imagine that the coach will have asked you to act as a leader.
Xavi doesn’t have to ask me for anything. He already knows me, and I know him. I know what he wants, what he likes, and what he expects from me. Being a leader comes naturally to me. It is a natural process of life. I like to see people well. I tell players to look around and appreciate what they have. Our profession is the best. Football saved my life and that of my family. I try to convey this to young people. We can change the lives of other people. We are not here to joke. This is much more than a weekend ‘game.’
What does Laporta mean to you?
Joan is the best president the club has had since I was part of its history. He feels Barça the most and suffers a lot when things don’t go well. He is always going to find a way to see Barça up. It is to remove the hat. It’s a joy to see how someone who loves this club, who looks for the best, cares so that everything goes well. After all, he makes this club bigger. To be president, you don’t have to stop being yourself. Same as being a player. People think I’m crazy 24 hours a day, seven days a week. And it’s not like that, only 24/6.5 (laughs). It seems that to be respected, you have to act crazy. I adapt to the world, and I am. But I am also very aware of the world and its problems.
What is the ‘Good Moments’ project? What does it consist of?
I am a very concerned person on a social level, very worried about the world and people’s direction. I think the roles are reversed in many phases of life. Many people are mentally ill speaking. To take care of my emotional health, my care, and my longevity in the world of sports, we decided to create a solution in this regard. I had to take a lot of supplements. I told Marcos, the person who accompanies me and who cares about my well-being, and he did a lot of research to reduce the number of pills and create ‘Good Moments’ so that with two capsules in the morning and one at night, They will balance my stress and vitamin levels. We have embarked on this adventure thinking about what we can contribute to society so that people have stability at the vitamin level. Stress and lack of control are the main cause of poor decisions. It is not a project born without a base and a single commercial objective. People have to make decisions at all times and must be serene to get them right. Between us, we have to take care of ourselves more and not try to destroy each other. If all people lived well, the world would be much better.
Your return home has been practically perfect, but you had to go through a tough moment like your non-registration in the Europa League. How did you fit it?
I always say that when things are done naturally, and you know the person next to you, everything is much easier. I’m sure it was as difficult for Xavi as for me. He knows me, what I can contribute, and how I take things. Honestly, it was a little easier to fit in than if it had happened to me at other stages of my career. I came here to help. If it has to be like this, go ahead. ‘Don’t feel bad,’ I told him. We are all in the same boat, trying to rebuild Barça. He knows that he ‘fucked’ me, I didn’t take it well, but I respected the decision.
Let’s talk about this batch of great players coming up and who you’re helping. Let’s start with Pedri. The young man talked about the most lately. What is it like inside the locker room? Do you understand the comparisons with Iniesta?
He is a private person. It’s ‘old soul.’ It’s on another level. It’s fantastic having him by your side. I am very privileged. I see incredible things from the front line. I don’t like to compare him to anyone, although in football, it’s inevitable. Don Andres is Don Andres. For me, Pedri is neither Xavi nor Iniesta. He is a ‘mix’ of the two.
A total midfielder, right?
Yes (laughs). I even think he has more goals than both. He tries a lot from outside the area, and he shoots well… He is improving a lot in this aspect.
What can you tell us about Gavi?
It has been a pleasant surprise for me. Despite following Barça, I didn’t know him. He is a player with incredible quality who also has that point of competitive madness. He is more aggressive than Pedri. Without wanting to throw too many rockets, I think they are two players who can mark an era as Xavi and Iniesta did. For their qualities and the desire they have. Today’s football is a little different, but they have everything to succeed.
And Araujo? He is a born leader.
He is an essential type of footballer in a squad. Every team must have players of their profile. People with strength, character. It comes naturally to him to be like this. He can be a great leader in the locker room in the rebuilding process. When we veterans leave for a while, people like him will have to step up. In a team, it is essential to have players like Ronald. In football, not everything is dressing short and going out to play. It takes something more to create a good atmosphere. We are very well served as young people. Veterans also try to soak up what they can teach us.
What would you highlight about Nico?
Nico is a ‘box-to-box’. He is also very promising. He has to try to learn from the best teacher, from Xavi. Receiving advice from a historical player is a blessing for him. I insist: it is difficult to find a generation of good young people who have different profiles and complement each other.
There is another youngster with whom you have not been able to share too many minutes on the pitch: Ansu Fati, the heir to Leo Messi’s ’10’.
Ansu was born to score goals. Saving the distances reminds me of Samuel Eto’o. He is a defense smashing machine. I think he can also mark an era, a special story within Barça. Like the rest of the young people, he will depend on him taking the right path and optimizing his qualities. Fame is the biggest distraction in life, and you have to know how to master it.
Are you helping him overcome the mood sticks he is suffering from injuries?
Yes, we talk a lot. He also speaks Portuguese, and that common point has brought us together a lot. He has excellent projection, and he is a fantastic guy. He has a huge heart. His family is helping him a lot, and he is next to him. You have to face life with personality and serenity. Detect the problem and work to solve it. Leo was also injured a lot in his early days and found the answer to his problems. When Ansu does it, he will be able to have more continuity.
With all these names that we have talked about, is it necessary to spend a million on Haaland or Mbappé? Does Barça need a star to make the final leap to the highest level?
Today’s football doesn’t give you time to wait for youngsters to catch on. The sport demands the maximum from you from now on. However, I would not favor spending a lot of money on certain players.
Would you throw the rest for Haaland?
No. Honestly, I wouldn’t spend much money on Haaland. In Mbappé yes, but in Haaland no. I’m playing sports director, but I’d bet on Mbappé first. It seems to be more complete in all aspects. If you are going to make a big investment, you have to do it in the best. If it were up to me, I would bet on Mbappé.
Have you tried to convince Dembélé?
He is at Barça, the best club in the world. What do I have to convince you of? You have the opportunity to live a beautiful story here. You don’t have to try to convince him of anything, people own his destiny, but he is in the best possible place.
What feeling do you have? Do you think it will renew?
I have no idea. After all, I don’t even know if I’ll stay (laughs).
Haven’t you talked to the club about your future? Still no firm decision?
No. I will do the same as in my first stage: fight until the end. When I’m on a mission, I give myself to it with everything. I want to give my best version, be well. When the season is over, they will let me know if I continue or not. No regrets. We are older now. The most important thing for me is transparency. It won’t be a problem if they come and tell me to my face that I can’t continue.
Is the World Cup in Qatar your last big challenge?
Not the last one, but it is important to me. Being able to try it one more time… That’s the idea. I will try to make the third time the charm, although it is clear that other teams also have a lot of chances. We will do everything that is within our reach. Qatar is a place that I like, where I was world champion with Barça. Maybe it’s a sign. I think we have a team to compete for the title. We have quality, a generation that combines experience and youth. We will have possibilities, but we have to play. Well, first, I have to make merits to be summoned.
If you can’t win it, let Messi do it, right?
No, no, no. I don’t give anyone options. I want to win it. The World Cup has to be ours, and we will do everything on our part to make it so. If not, we will steal the trophy (laughs).
You recently said that you don’t see Leo happy in Paris. Would you like him to return to Barça?
I don’t know what he thinks or wants to do. He could come back a ‘year-old’ with me for one last dance. Why not? There is no better place than this, and we couldn’t be better than at Barça. He has tasted the experience, and it’s time to go home if he wants.