Everybody knows the story of how a team enriched by world-beating talent from Barcelona’s academy, La Masia, became one of the best football teams in history with Pep Guardiola as Coach. Everybody talks about Lionel Messi, Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta, and rightly so. But there was one very vital cog in that well-oiled, ‘total football’ playing machine who hails from Brazil – Dani Alves.
The former Sevilla man could face his former club for the first time in Tuesday’s Champions League quarter-final first leg at the J-Stadium. But were Barca correct to allow him to leave last summer, and how have they dealt with the blow of losing arguably the best right-back in their history?
Alves made nearly 250 appearances for La Blaugrana, winning six La Liga crowns, four Copa del Rey trophies and three Champions Leagues – 23 pieces of silverware overall. He has always been a right-back whose primary instinct is to attack, and that served him well in a side that blew away the majority of teams they faced with relentless attacking and pressing.
His link-play with Lionel Messi was brilliant to watch, and his ability to cover the whole right side of the pitch meant that whoever was playing in front of him, particularly Messi under Luis Enrique, was granted a lot of freedom.
Although the now 33-year-old was criticised at times for the defensive deficiencies in his game, it is safe to say that he has been sorely missed this season for the Catalans. More than anything, this is down to Barca not signing an adequate replacement. Sergi Roberto has struggled, and it is evident that he has not played in the position for very long, especially in big games. Aleix Vidal was signed with the possibility of replacing Alves, but he has not hit the ground running.
There is no doubting that Roberto is an important squad member at Barca with his ability to slot into numerous positions seamlessly, meaning Enrique can change systems between or during games, but it looks as though they will replace Alves this summer, whether it be with Hector Bellerin, Joao Cancelo or one of a number of other options.
On the other hand, it could be argued that the club were right to let him leave – first of all because the Brazilian wanted a new challenge after becoming ‘too comfortable’ in Barcelona, and secondly because he is not the player he once was, even if he is still excellent.
Alves suffered a broken leg in November, so he has done well to play 23 times throughout the campaign and he can still make big contributions, like the goal he scored in the previous round of the Champions League against Porto. Perhaps minus the injuries, his impact in Turin would have been greater and he will be disappointed with his time there so far.
Whether or not Alves plays against Barca remains to be seen, but he should feature over the two legs at least. La Blaugrana would love to still have him, but there was no stopping such a hungry and determined character from taking on is next challenge.