Dani Alves:’ I was happier before. Has no one stopped to think that fame is shit ?’

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The Barcelona full-back opens up on money, the criticism of his defend, why he likes sing and his disfavour for social media and the world we live in

Dani Alves rocks back in his chair, a glisten in his eye. Imagine if Id been any good, he says. Imagine. If hed been any good, he might have induced more La Liga appearances than any foreigner ever or provided a hundred assistances, more than any other player apart from Lionel Messi over the last decade in Spain. He might have been voted into the FIFPro team five times or won so many trophies that hes lost count. If Dani Alves had been any good, he might have won five leagues, four cup, three European Cups, three Club World Cups and two Uefa Cups.

Oh, right.

So, Dani, how many trophies have you won? Its only the second question the first, in case youre wondering, is who is the worlds best right-back and the answer, in case youre wondering that too, is Cafu and for once Alves is stuck. Theres a pause and a false start before he responds: Twenty er, thirty? Thirty trophies. Its a number that brooks little argument but with Alves theres always an debate. Time, then, to make a lawsuit for the defence?

Defence? Alves? If theres one thing everyone knows about him, its that he prefers to attack.

Theres something about Alves. Maybe its the style he plays. Or the style he garments: today hes in baggy beige trousers, MC Hammer-style, shoes with metal spikes on, a black T-shirt and jacket tied around his waist, all disappointingly normal. Or the style he is. Maybe its the silliness, the sing, the cheek, the outspokenness. Something that wins him admirers, sure, but detractors too. Something about him gets to them, and they clearly get to him too.

Maybe its the style he talks. Alves talks a bit like he plays. Quick, open, chaotic, seemingly everywhere at once. But theres an underlying logic there too, a commitment and a seriousness even for those prepared to look. He cares. Its an enjoyable ride, carrying you along. He packs a lot in, thats for sure; and he gets a lot out. Thirty medals, recollect. Which seems as good a place to start this conversation as any, even if where it will end isnt yet clear. So, here goes: thirtys a lot, but anyone can win medals in this Barcelona team, right?

Dani Alves celebrates with the trophy after winning the Champions League in 2015, his third European Cup. Maybe its easy to win a title at Barcelona, but[ its not so easy] to have a long history here. Photograph: Michael Dalder/ Reuters

Not precisely. Its not just that Alves has more medals than all his Barcelona team-mates except Andrs Iniesta or that he led Sevilla to two Uefa Cups and the verge of a miraculous league title. Nor that he and Gerard Piqu were the only additions to a squad that had endured two years of failure, and that his influence in their success was huge. Its that if longevity at Camp Nou is often offered up as the sole justification for success, reason to doubt his value, he argues that his longevity is a success. Thats his value, right there.

And, with that, hes off. Maybe its easy to win a title at Barcelona, maybe it is, Alves confesses. Whats not is to win so much, to have a long history here.

Alves knows. The demands are relentless. Every season some want it to be his last, yet here he is eight years on. Last year his time truly did appear to be up: his form had dropped and although he recovered by May he still hadnt renewed his contract, while negotiations with Barcelona all-too-publicly collapsed.

There were discussions with other clubs and the allegations that he did not care, that he was selfish or unprofessional. Few fought for him to stay. Except those that knew: his manager and team-mates. It would be difficult to find another like him, Messi said.

A press conference days before the Copa del Rey final ended with him literally singing its time to go, bye-bye bye .~ ATAGEND But two weeks later, after the seasons close, Barcelona renewed his deal.

They did so nearly in spite of themselves but with good reason: Messi was right. All season theyd doubted but Alves aimed it with three more winners medals. And even the summer signing of Aleix Vidal hasnt ushered him to the door since: when Barcelona faced Arsenal and won 2-0 at the Emirates, Alves started.

If I had to choose[ which medals mean most ], Id say last years because there were so many doubts: if I was finished, if Barcelona should get rid of me, if I shouldnt be there … Alves acknowledges. I wouldnt say it got to me but it riled me because I love my profession, I live for football, for my squad, my team-mates. If I only thought about myself, Id be no utilize. I dont would like to speak about me, me, me … and find we havent won anything. Thats a disaster.

Theres something in that reply that challenges facile, superficial premises. Alves may appear frivolous, but he is not; he may appear daft, but hes certainly not that either. He may not always conform, but he is a team-mates team-mate. Focus may be turned overwhelmingly towards his failings he thinks so anyway but he has a habit of winning. And when it comes to the old chestnut, the recurring accusation that even his supporters presume to be true, he has an answer there too.

Assists are fine, its one thing set a record for the most touches in a game as he did earlier this season, but Dani Alves is a defender and Dani Alves cant defend even if he did attain more tackles than anyone else last season. Or so they say. As for Alves, he says this: What is defended?

What is defend ?, he continues. That no one ever dribblings or attacks? Bloody hell, football would be boring, wouldnt it? You can prepare[ only] to defend but then the guy dribbles past you anyway … what, you think youre the only one thats quick? If you defend, you dont attack; if you attack, you dont defend? Whats football for? To win. And to win you have to score more. The win isnt[ merely] the team that defends incredibly; if you defend well but dont score, its worthless.

Dani Alves, seen here tackling Lionel Messi in 2003, told his manager at Sevilla, Joaqun Caparrs, that football has no limits , no rules after being asked to stay in his own half. Photograph: Denis Doyle/ Getty Images

His is a doctrine that fit with Barcelonas and one he objective up enforcing on Sevilla, so good was he. Alves recollects his early days at the Snchez Pizjun where coach-and-four Joaqun Caparrs tried to pull him into line before accepting that he was better out of line. The full-back couldnt go beyond halfway. I said: Why not ?, he remembers. Football is defend-attack, defend-attack … or attack-defend, attack-defend. Football has no limits , no rules.[ Caparrs] changed my posture[ to midfielder] until he realised that although I had offensive qualities I could do both.

If you do the same as all the remainder, youre the same as all the remainder: I dont want to be simply another player, he says. Then Barcelona signed me. When you sign a player, you know what his qualities are. And what his flaws are. He cant defend? Were always looking at things under the microscope, searching for the flaw. But if Claudio Bravo gets the award[ for the goalkeeper who has conceded the fewest objectives ], part of that is mine. A tiny part, but its there. If you dont allow in goals, its because weve all done a good job.

Or look at the galas: Messi has five Ballon dOrs. I have five[ Fifa/ FIFPro World XI inclusions ]. I always tell him: hey, every time I go, you win! Ha ha ha!

So, so, so, much criticism constructs you reflect, Alves continues. Its a topic to which he returns often: the microscope, the criticism, the reflection. So, invited to reflect, what does he think? He smiles. I think: bloody hell, without defending well, without assaulting well, without being able to deliver a decent cross, Ive is right there nine years. Imagine if Id been any good. Id be the hostia ! The hostia is the holy host, the consecrated bread. The business, in other words.

Dani Alvess Barcelona face Arsenal at Camp Nou in the Champions League on Wednesday, having won the first last-1 6 leg 2-0 at the Emirates. Photo: Manel Chico for the Guardian

Write a listing of players whove is right there and how long they lasted; its that easy, Alves insists, one example of course being Alexis Snchez, whom he faces on Wednesday. Players come and go. That doesnt mean theyre bad; theyre brutes but at Barcelona its not enough to be brutes. With all those defects, bad as I am, Im the foreigner with the second most Barcelona games ever. Only Leos above me. I suppose: if Ive played all of that, I cant merely have defects, I must have some qualities too. I know people dont talk about that, I know the majority dont like me, but …

Its a striking phrase, one that indicates a hurt thats rarely far away. The majority? Really? Well, maybe not the majority but a huge number, definitely. But Im ready. Praise? Everyones ready to hear nice things. But to hear bad things? Assure how you react. Im always under the microscope. They forget that under the microscope, a persons good things are amplified too…

Alves opens his arms wide: So my balls are this big!

One day Ill think: I actually was different in football. People think Im mad, that I say things for the sake of it, that its all nonsense, crazy. But , no, its not: I think about it. When the consequences come, Im ready. I simply carry on.

Just carry on? The proof suggests the opposite, that criticism gets to him.

Yes, he concedes. You dont simply ignore it? Its not, as people guess, that you dont care? Noooo … he says. I try to improve; people dont believe me but I do. I use criticism for that: what would become of me without it? If people only praised me, it would debilitate me. I laugh at some of it but I take note too. You can guess criticism meaningless but there comes a point when there must be something there, and that stimulates you think.

What is true is that I wont change my doctrine, because Id become bitter. If you live your life by what others say, it stops being their own lives. I enjoy life and the thing I treasure the most is: I dont hurt anybody. I know people can feel offended sometimes, but Im not trying to hurt anyone. Thats never my intention. Theres no maliciousness. I want people to reflect.

Dani Alves celebrating with his team-mate Neymar after yet another Barcelona goal, this time in the Champions League against Paris St-Germain. Photograph: Manu Fernandez/ AP

So, Alves continues without pause, when I said the press was rubbish, for example, I did so because theyre damaging football … And I then came out and explained it[ better ], because I know there are good people in the profession and its not fair to generalise. I cant stop people thinking Im a gilipollas [ dickhead] or that I just said it to piss everyone off. But , no. I do things like that because I want people to see the damage, to suppose. Understand why .

For Alves, this goes beyond football; would like to know whether he watches himself fulfilling a social role, he doesnt hesitate. Yes, he says. When I talk about energy, happiness, exhilaration, thats applicable to life. I try to make people take that on; I hope to be contagious. Dont be bitter: the worlds already bitter enough, its already self-destructing. I want that positive energy to reach people.

I cant sing, but I sing. Theres a phrase: quien canta, sus males espanta [ he who sings sings his difficulties away ]. So, I sing. Because I like to, because I dont like to be surrounded by shit. I like happiness and when people try to destroy that, it winds me up.

People think the life I lead, being well-paid, is also the reason why Im like this. No. I was happier when I lived in the countryside with my father than I often am now. Why? Because I didnt know how prostituted the world is.

Alves says he takes mental refuge in Juazeiro, the small town where he grew up, and in his fathers attitude even if “its one” he didnt solely share. I imagine myself there, he says. Now, everyones on their phone , no one talks to anyone, theyre all appearing down[ at social media ], find what others are saying about them.[ But] the more you know the world today, the more it disappoints. I dont understand why everyone fights for power, fund, fame. Has no one stopped to think that notoriety is shit? That the more money you have, the more problems?

Everyone wants, wants, wants … and when they have, they feel desperate. Moneys a necessary evil, there to give you moments. It gives me things I couldnt have, nice things, but happiness ? Thats a not a question of fund and renown. Quite the opposite. If youre famous, people are there: Looking, appear, the famous guy.

Alves is flying now. People talk about famous people and normal people. Normal? Cant we all be normal? he says. I play football, youre a journalist, youre a photographer, but were all people. Yet there are labels: famous , normal, rich, poor … for me rich isnt having lots of money; rich is having loads of things in your head.

Things like Arsenal? Its time to get back to the football; theres a game to talk about, after all. Alves smiles, a little apologetically. Sure, he says. So, its all over, then? Barcelona are in the next round. No , no, Alves insists, because football teaches you a lot; it knocks you back if you think its done.[ The affiliation] appears good, but we have to keep this level. We knew it would be hard but that marriage have chances and we managed the game: when to control, when to assault, when to counter.

Dani Alves says he sings because he likes to sing. I like happiness and when people try to destroy that, it winds me up, he says. Photograph: Albert Gea/ Reuters

Alves especially enjoyed the first leg; he always does when England calls. The enthusiasm is clear. Its special: theres a corner and its like its a objective, he says. Ive always said that playing in England is something Ive get pending. I dont know when but Id like to play there, to experience in person what I see from the sofa. The style the people live football. Wow, its unbelievable. Full stadiums, living every moment.

If youve left your skin on the pitching,[ English] fans respect that, Alves continues. Its an idea he shares. When you become a advocate, you dont support them when they win and then not when they dont. Whats that? Thats no way to understand football. If Im a fan, Im a fan always. In England thats the route. If they dont win: Next time !. Not: this lot are shit. What? Its easy to sit on your sofa and say: hes useless. Run on, see if you can do the same.

England attracts, all right. So, if Pep Guardiola calls again? Alves bursts out laughing. Ha ha ha! I dont think hed call me.

Whatever happens, first the focus is here. On chasing a third treble, a second in a row, on more medals. Barcelona have an eight-point advantage in the league, a place in the Copa del Rey final, and the 2-0 leading they take into Wednesdaynight.

This team lives to compete for everything, Alves says. It is what he says he has lived for over eight years at Camp Nou, and before that, but for how much longer? And what next? By May he will be 33 and he acknowledges hes already thinking about life after football, which will be a life away from football: Restaurants, fashion Not coaching? No , no.

But I do want to do something, Alves says. My only fear is, in some small style, leaving a legacy for children, devoting something back. I dont know how but maybe I can show them that if you want something you have to fight for it, that your energy can carry you. Maybe theres a way of telling the curious narrative of the boy who left behind a life where he had nothing , nothing at all, in a tiny township thats not even on most maps, and aimed up at the best club in the history of football.

The storys curious, but has still not been complete. Outside Dani Alvess vehicle is parked, awaiting; its bright orange and its time to go. The dialogue started with Cafu; it ends with him too. Cafu went on until 35. Could Alves do the same?

Every time I win something I think youre doing OK. I never imagined this but nor did I aspire to be merely another person, like my daddy did. I dreamed of being someone in football history. Thats why I look after myself, fight, love football as I do, Alves says. The only thing I dont want is for football to retire me; I decide. One day: thats it. Dont expect[ reports] saying: Dani announces this will be his last season. No.

So tomorrow, suddenly, youll be gone Whats the hurry-up ?! Alves protests. Im not in a hurry. But Im not one to believe: Ive got to keep going. I dont want football to say: thanks, Dani, but youre no use any more. No , no. When I go, Ill go, saying: thanks very much for everything, football: thanks for the opportunity and thanks for the incredible journey weve been on together.

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