Copa America 2019: Free agent Dani Alves proves for Brazil that he may be old, but is still gold

Andy West 23:16 03/07/2019
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Old, but gold: Dani Alves.

In the 19th minute, there he was.

Showing determination and athleticism to win a loose ball in midfield, Dani Alves drove towards goal and fed a perfect pass into the stride of Roberto Firmino, whose low cross was easily dispatched by Gabriel Jesus for the opening goal.

In the 90th minute, there he was again.

With Brazil looking to close out the final few seconds and Argentina pressing hard to give themselves a lifeline, Alves gathered possession inside his own half and sped forward, drawing a foul on the halfway line to relieve the pressure and take a few more seconds off the clock.

From the first minute until the last, Brazil skipper Alves was absolutely everywhere on Tuesday night.

The stats speak for themselves: he had 112 touches, 44 more than any other Brazilian player (Arthur) and 21 more than any Argentine (Leandro Paredes). He also made that possession count, embarking upon a team-high five dribbles and delivering three crosses into the box, while also fulfilling his defensive duties with three tackles, two clearances and one interception.

Beyond the numbers, though, Alves was even more important for his role as Brazil’s spiritual heartbeat. In a team which can look one-paced and predictable, he added a much-needed spark of drive and dynamism to lift his team-mates, energise the home crowd and deflate the opposition. He was, to borrow his own personal social media catchphrase, ‘good crazy’.

Alves Messi

All of this, of course, came from a man who is now 36-years-old and has already won nearly everything there is to win (the World Cup is the only major miss) over the course a sensational career.

In fact, he has won more than practically every other player in history, bagging a ‘good crazy’ total of 41 honours, including multiple league titles with Barcelona, Juventus and Paris Saint-Germain, three Champions League crowns with Barca, the Europa League with Sevilla and Copa America with Brazil in 2007.

Pretty impressive. The craziest thing about Alves right now, though, is that he is currently a free agent, having announced last month that he will not renew his contract with PSG.

That’s right: one of the most decorated players in history, who has just delivered a man of the match performance while captaining Brazil to the Copa America final, is available on a free transfer. It’s the steal of the summer, and Europe’s big guns must be lining up to knock on his door with pre-prepared contracts only requiring his signature on the dotted line.

Of course, there is the caveat of his age. It would be entirely unrealistic to expect a player who will be 37 before the end of next season to excel as a week-in, week-out starter. His total of 32 appearances across all competitions for PSG last season is probably more or less his limit. So whoever signs Alves next will also need to have another right-back on board to share playing time.

In modern top-level football, though, that is pretty much a given. Challenging for major honours in top competitions over the course of nine months requires deep squads, and only goalkeepers and perhaps central defenders can be expected to play nearly every game.

In any case, Alves showed on Tuesday night that he still possesses phenomenal levels of fitness, finding the energy at the end of a very long season to constantly charge up and down the sidelines and power Brazil’s victory over Argentina as he closes in on yet another title.

Sure, the absence of a transfer fee means that Alves will command a massive signing-on bonus, and he would also expect to be a high earner. But his qualities – technical, physical and intangible – are rarely available elsewhere, and the added element of his vast experience makes him a cheap short-term option whatever the price.

Barcelona have never succeeded in replacing him, and there’s a strong logical argument that the Camp Nou club should simply give up in their efforts to do so and just bring him back for a glorious swansong.

However, Alves left Barca on very poor terms with the club’s board, who will be highly reluctant to now welcome him back, so that option looks unlikely.

Manchester City have come close to signing Alves in the past, and the English champions are another possibility this time, especially if they do not secure Joao Cancelo from Juventus – there could certainly be no better role model or teacher for Kyle Walker. There may also be a move to a different new country with Bayern Munich, who would find Alves’ experience a major asset in their rebuilding process.

Alternatively, Alves could choose to cash in by ending his career with a lucrative stint in China, and that appears to be the most likely conclusion according to experts.

That, though, would be a shame. Alves, to be frank, is better than that, and his star showing for Brazil on Tuesday shows that he still had a huge amount to offer at the highest level. Alves might be old, but he’s still gold.

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