Friday 02 July 2021, 17:00

Daniel Alves: You get emotional thinking about the Olympics

  • Daniel Alves is the most decorated footballer in history

  • The 38-year-old discusses his Olympic and Qatar 2022 dreams

  • He raves about his time at Barcelona, Lionel Messi and Neymar

A nine-year-old Brazilian slept on a bed made of cement, pestered by the stench of wet soil and searing temperatures of up to 40°C. He was awoken at 4am to go to work on a farm, spraying chemicals on crops and doing heavy lifting. He then had to walk 12 miles to school and run the same distance back, the latter in order to make it to football training. Daniel Alves did all that in his emblematically upbeat mood. A dream, indeed, helped the hours whittle away: becoming a professional footballer. The Juazeiro native is now 38 and not just a pro player, but the most decorated in the sport’s history. And he’s still dreaming. First of Men’s Olympic Football Tournament gold, then of FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™ glory, and of becoming the first player to conquer 50 team titles. The man they call ‘Good Crazy’ discusses those ambitions with, as well as his time at Barcelona, Lionel Messi and Neymar. Brazil coach Andre Jardine told us your eyes lit up when he approached you about an Olympic call-up. How did you feel at that moment? Daniel Alves: It was a unique sensation. I had never experienced that moment – I’ve always dreamed of participating in the Olympics, so it was one of tremendous joy. The Olympics are magical – you get emotional thinking about them. I’m a patriot – I can’t explain how much I love wearing the Brazil shirt. To represent my country, my people in a competition as important, as magical as the Olympics, is really, really incredible. You’re 38. Brazil could only take three overage players. Did you think your chance of playing in the Olympics had vanished? I never think that my chances are over. I firmly believe in myself – the way I look after myself, the way I train, my performances. I hit the post twice, and at the third time of asking I have the chance to defend Brazil at the Olympics. Winning gold is a huge responsibility, but this is what I live for. Challenges like this really motivate me. You’ve won more titles than any player in football history. How much would winning a gold medal mean to you? Every title has its own importance, but some are extra special. The Olympics is more special than others. It’s like the World Cup. It comes round every four years. You have all the best athletes, the best teams from around the world. It enchants the whole world. Its magic is different. We’re a group of players who will be playing in the Olympics for the first time, and that will be magical, but we must stay focussed on our mission: to win another gold for our country.

How much would you like to play at the next World Cup? This, being honest, is my biggest target. It was a really nice surprise to get an Olympic call-up, but ever since I left PSG, I promised myself I will give it absolutely everything to be at the World Cup. In life you have to set yourself big targets and go after them. You may achieve them, you may not, but if I don’t go to the World Cup I can absolutely promise it won’t be for lack of trying. If I don’t deserve it and another player does, I will be Seleção’s biggest supporter. But I think about the World Cup constantly and I’m dedicating myself to realising this dream. It would be the ultimate. What do you think of Neymar? An extremely rare genius. He’s totally underappreciated. In our country being successful seems to be a crime. I think he pays for the fact he’s Brazilian. If he was from another country, doing everything he does, breaking the records he has, Brazilians would rate him so, so much higher. Neymar makes kids fall in love with football. When I was a kid, what made me fall in love with football was the magic that Brazilian players had, the ability to pull off something different, to represent what football is about. Football started getting boring – very tactical, physical. Football should be an art, something beautiful. When you watch Ney, it is. No-one is as magical as him. I absolutely love football and I absolutely love watching Neymar.

Who were the magicians who made you fall in love with football? I loved the magic of the Ronaldinhos and Romario. But I wanted to become a footballer and my example was Cafu. Coming from Juazeiro, we never imagined ourselves being magicians. We were battling to make it. My benchmark was Cafu. His story, the way he fought really inspired me. That’s why I hate it when people compare me to Cafu. I believe in myself so much, I feel like I’ve won a Hollywood Oscar, but I have maximum respect for Cafu and don’t like these debates. Cafu’s a legend. What was your time at Barcelona like? Incomparable. I believe I played in the best team in football history. I’ve never seen such a magical team who were so in sync. We were all on the same wavelength for 90 minutes. Global superstars who played the game like children. We played not just to win but to entertain too. We had amazing player after amazing player and one emblem who was from a different planet to everyone. It’s difficult to explain this to others, because the sensation of being part of that squad is something that only those who experienced it can understand. We experienced moments of immeasurable euphoria.

Do you think that one emblem is the greatest player in football history? I can only speak about players I’ve seen in my lifetime. I’ve seen some tremendous talents, but they weren’t able to maintain such a top-level standard for so, so, so long. So, despite him being Argentinian, I’ll admit this: Messi is the greatest player in history. Who do you think is the best player in the world today? Neymar is the best player in the world today. You had a very difficult upbringing… A lot of kids have it tough. I’m very lucky that I have parents who did everything to make sure there was always food on the table – they will always be my heroes – but it wasn’t possible for me to have what a lot of other kids had. I had to work from an early age. But there’s something that can get you through all the hurdles you face in life: dreams. You may have problems, but when you dream big, your dreams are so magical that they consume your mind, you don’t think about difficulties. Of course you have to be willing to give it your all to realise your dreams – anyone can have dreams they do nothing about. My dream was to become a footballer. You’re currently on 43 senior titles for clubs and country. How does this make you feel and do you think about becoming the first player to conquer 50? I’m really proud of myself. I think about how hard I have fought for all of this. I think you have to shoot for the stars. Yes, I think about this milestone. The big 50! I think it would be amazing, historical. I hope I can get the big 50 before I retire and I hope it includes the World Cup.