Dani Alves has lived many different moments. As he prepares to play in a third World Cup, the full-back is disappointed with world events and social problems. The hope for a better society in the face of Covid-19 has become frustrating, with an increase of attitudes he considers unacceptable.
“People have lost the fear of the death and the respect also,” he says. “Nothing has changed, unfortunately … I wish it had changed a lot of things, but it didn’t. We are coming out of the pandemic and everyone thought things were going to change, but what happened was a war.
“People have not changed, they continue to fight for power and the disrespect has increased. Whoever did stupidity in life and on the internet does even more because it gives audience.”
Alves has also noticed a rise in racist crimes. During his career, he has been a victim. The most famous case happened in 2014, when he was at Barcelona. In a game against Villarreal, a banana was thrown on the pitch. Unceremoniously, Alves picked up the fruit and ate it.
Racism was never a taboo topic for him. Indeed, it was the 39-year-old who introduced it in this interview. He did so in reaction to Nelson Piquet’s racist slur of Lewis Hamilton. “It bothered me,” he says “But not just for the fact itself. I won’t delve too deeply into this because pushing [a] drunk downhill is easy. It’s not just because of [Piquet’s] statement. It’s for everything that’s happening. What happened is the extreme. If the biggest winner in Formula One is attacked, despised, excluded, imagine who is down there in the society?
“I pray and ask forgiveness for these people. My concern is with them because they are always being prevented from being someone, from having opportunities. Opportunity is not for everyone.”
Alves sent support to Hamilton after he spoke out against Piquet. “It was a message for him to keep going with his goal, which is very big,” Alves says. “He’s a guy who can transform lives and needs to keep fighting. We have a mission and no one will shake us.”
Returning to matters on the pitch, Alves finds himself as a free agent after a brief, second spell at Barcelona. It was a happy if ultimately frustrating time and Alves’s desire is to find a new club so he is ready and able to feature for his country in Qatar.
“I didn’t leave sad,” Alves says of his six months at the Camp Nou, which followed a turbulent stint at São Paulo. “I left happy to have returned to Barcelona. I dreamed for five years wanting to live this second moment. The only thing I didn’t like was how my departure was handled.
“Since I arrived, I made it very clear that I wasn’t any more a 20-year-old guy and that I wanted things to be done head-on, without hiding things. But this club has sinned in recent years. Barcelona don’t care about the people who made history for the club. As a culê [Barcelona supporter], I would like Barcelona to do things differently. I’m not talking about myself because my situation was another scenario. I am eternally grateful to Xavi and the president for bringing me back.
“I found a club full of young people with incredible ideas on the pitch,” says Alves, who played 17 times for Barcelona in his second spell having featured 247 times during a trophy-laden eight-year first spell. “But it needs to improve the work outside the field. The mindset is totally opposite to what we built a few years ago. Everything that happens on the field is a reflection of what happens outside.
“I’m supporting for Barcelona to come back to the top, but it’s super-complicated. Football is more balanced, it’s a collective game. And that has been left out at the club.”
Since Alves left Barcelona last month, he has been linked with a number of clubs, including Real Valladolid, who are majority-owned by fellow Brazil legend Ronaldo. A deadline for finding a new club has not been set, but the criteria is clear. “I like challenges and I adapt to any situation,” Alves says. “Today I am unemployed, but interesting things have come up. I’m doing my study about places to go which have a good level of competitiveness.
“That’s football. You have to get together with people who want the same goal, who want to compete, to win. I like to win. I want to go somewhere I can win.”
Another club interested in signing Alves are Athletico Paranaense, coached by Luiz Felipe Scolari, whom the defender played under at the 2014 World Cup. If he does decide to go there, he will be returning to a country where violence against footballers is on the rise. Since the beginning of the year, players from Bahia, Fortaleza, Grêmio and Paraná have been beaten by fans. During a game in January, a man with a knife entered the pitch to threaten someone in an Under-20s match.
“We need to improve Brazilian football, we need to fight against the violence in stadiums. It’s shameful what has happened in the games,” Alves says. “People have children, they want to see something they can admire. If not, it becomes frustration, trauma.
“We can’t sit on top of the story because then no chapter is written. That’s what I tried to do, but I was crucified [in São Paulo]. I don’t rule out any situation, but if I go back to Brazil, it will be to Athletico Paranaense.”
Having turned 39 in May it is perhaps inevitable Alves’s age is mentioned whenever the prospect of him extending his career is discussed. He acknowledges it is an issue but believes he remains capable of performing at the highest level. “I know that everyone is talking about my age, that I am old, that 20 years ago everyone wanted me and today not. But I completely disagree because I have an experience today that I didn’t have 20 years ago. When there’s a big game, 20 year olds get nervous and worried, but I don’t.
“Age has its pros and cons. There are many things you do when you’re 20, but you don’t do it when you’re older. Maturity comes from just living. I also have the experience of having lived almost everything in the sport”.
Alves is one of the leaders in Brazil’s squad and was present throughout their World Cup cycle. Even so, he knows that he needs to perform at a high level to secure a call-up for the World Cup squad by Tite. Their longstanding and trusting relationship is a guarantee of nothing.
“Nobody plays because he is a friend of the coach. In the end, it’s his job that’s at risk,” says Alves. “He will not expose himself. He’s not stupid. He needs players who will match what he needs. Tite and I have many years of work together. It is a relationship that one trusts and requires high performance from the other. He is very picky.
“How does someone leave the farm to become the biggest winner in football history? It’s work. I don’t have the natural gift of [Lionel] Messi, Neymar, Ronaldinho, Ronaldo, Romario. I know I have to work a lot to get what I want. I have my talent, but I also work hard and I have discipline.”
Having featured for Brazil on 125 occasions including at the 2010 and 2014 World Cups, Alves is well played to judge their prospects in Qatar. He is adamant they have a strong chance of winning the World Cup for the first time in 20 years and goes so far as to say the Seleção are “undoubtedly favourites. But a favourite with respect to opponents because we have lived many different moments in these competitions
“We’ve already been tested a lot. We had a great learning experience. Now is the time to reap good fruits. We are on the right path and we have to assert the right to be favourites.”
If Alves does feature at the World Cup, will that be the moment he picks to retire? “The last dance is when you’re going to retire, but I think I’ll keep dancing. A dance is always welcome, regardless of the place and which dance. I do not think like that. And the last dance has already been done. It’s better to create a new chapter, a new series. It’s another chapter of my life.”