“I asked Dani Alves to help us, above all us older members of the team, to achieve the dream we are still chasing and help us push the bar a little higher.” Those were the words of Gigi Buffon back in August, the Juventus skipper – despite having won almost everything there is to win – recognising that the Brazilian could still teach him a thing or too about what it takes to achieve Champions League glory.
The veteran goalkeeper would add that, thanks to his time at Barcelona, Alves “is accustomed to certain targets and victories,” going on to say that “his experience can really help us.” Now when Buffon speaks like that about a player, perhaps supporters would do well to listen. But, as the 2016/17 campaign got underway, it seemed as though Juve’s excellent track record with ageing free agent signings had finally run out.
Unlike Andrea Pirlo, Fernando Llorente and even Sami Khedira, Alves did not immediately impress. His first few games in the famous black and white stripes were largely abysmal, lacking the energy and awareness that were always hallmarks of his game as the Turin giants lost clashes with AC Milan and Genoa.
He would then spend a couple of months sidelined with a fractured bone in his leg, and it seems the time away from the pitch did him the power of good. Perhaps able to take a step back and see where he could help the team enabled the 34-year-old to maximise his impact when he returned.
Without him, Max Allegri had shifted to a 4-2-3-1 formation, but it was when he became part of that new system that it truly began to hum. Comfortable wins were racked up at home and in Europe, with Alves buzzing around the pitch and constantly being involved in Juve’s most promising attacking moves.
There had been some glimpses of what he could do, and it was no surprise that they largely came in the Champions League. Now, having already helped the Old Lady defeat his beloved Barca – a victory Alves admitted “felt a bit strange” – he almost single handedly demolished semi-final opponents AS Monaco.
Dani Alves in the Champions League this season:— Squawka Football (@Squawka) May 10, 2017
30 chances created
22 successful crosses
21 tackles won
Master of all. pic.twitter.com/5kauWQvk0n
The first leg saw him lay on two goals for Gonzalo Higuain, the first (above) as part of a beautiful team move that saw the Bianconeri sweep forward with the kind of devastating counterattack that has been a hallmark of the Ligue 1 side’s own play all season.
He then swung in a perfect cross for the Argentinian’s second goal, repeating the feat in the return leg to set up Mario Mandžukić for the opener at Juventus Stadium. Not content with merely providing for others, Alves would deliver the coup de grâce after Paulo Dybala forced a corner just before half time.
Goalkeeper Danijel Subašić punched clear following the set piece, the ball looping up in the air as Juve’s No.23 stood waiting outside the box. As it dropped to him, Alves unleashed an unstoppable volley, the shot thumping into the bottom corner and guaranteeing that the Brazilian defender would be playing in the twelfth European final of his career.
He did more than just score of course, ensuring Monaco found little joy down the Juventus right as he protected Andrea Barzagli superbly against the pace of Kylian Mbappé. Winning six tackles, making one interception and completing 41 of the 45 passes he attempted (91.1%), it was yet another complete performance, and one the man himself was more than happy with.
“This was an opportunity that life gave me, to my teammates and to this squad,” Alves told Mediaset Premium shortly after the final whistle. “It’s a good moment for us, we worked so hard to get here, but we haven’t achieved anything yet. If we can win the Final, then we’ll all be happy.”
That last part became something of a mantra for the whole group on Wednesday night, Buffon and Allegri both telling reporters that simply reaching the final is “not enough anymore.” It never has been for the Brazilian, who has won the Champions League three times and never finished as a runner up.
Now, with the chance to help the Old Lady end a 21-year wait to lift European football’s greatest prize and to make good on Buffon’s pre-season request, just one more game stands between Dani Alves and a place forever in the long and storied history of Juventus.