The whole press conference is a show of Alves’ personality: mocking, irreverent, boisterous, happy. He sings, he laughs, he scowls. His mood swings are swift, emotions on his sleeve to the point of being wailing sirens attached to his arms. A journalist is recognized and starts to speak, a query interrupted by the subject.
“[You’re] trash,” Dani Alves says, “next question; I don’t respond to Marca.”
If you were writing a heist screenplay and needed an eccentric character, you could do worse than writing in Dani Alves. He dresses like he woke up in a chic fashion boutique and his glasses game is similar to an American basketball player that a men’s style journal described as an “experienced glasses-wearer.” Alves is, it would appear from countless social media posts, interviews, and press conferences, the same on and off the field.
When he first landed in Spain Alves already had a couple of titles to his name, the modest Campeonato do Bahia and Campeonato do Nordeste that Esporte Clube Bahia won in 2001 and 2002. Yet Alves was an up-and-coming star, his all-around skills fundamental to both the immediate survival of Sevilla in la primera in their first season back in the top flight, as well as for Brazil at the Youth World Championships. By the summer of 2007 Alves was awash in praise from various outlets and fans, and Sevilla was awash in the glory of a second consecutive UEFA Cup victory. Chelsea made bids that were rejected by Sevilla, despite Alves’ professed interest in a move to London. So Alves stayed in southern Spain for another season, then got what amounted to a dream move to Barcelona for €32.5 million, at the time a record fee for a defender.
On the field, Dani Alves is a Formula 1 car whose horn is a sarcastic laugh employed whenever a refereeing decision goes against him. On good days, he’s a 5-year old in a ball pit at McDonalds who has just been told he’ll never have to go home and the burgers are all free. That kind of joy, that kind of spontaneous humanity is infectious, consequences be damned. F1 cars don’t even have horns but Alves’ does because, if it didn’t, he’d get in all sorts of trouble for smashing into opponents in an attempt to alleviate the tension that builds during a match.
In an interview in September 2014, he told El Hormiguero host Pablo Motos that “the thing that bothers me is that fans think that [losing] hurts them more than it hurts us [the players].” He is an open book in so many ways. His interviews are fascinating looks at a man who is comfortable enough with himself to speak openly or spit fire, whichever he feels is most useful at that moment. Perhaps this gets to people, perhaps his penchant for petulance irks those who don’t watch him on a regular basis or whose ideological bent is opposite the blaugrana color spectrum. He’s been called a diver, a theatrical personality, but despite a reputation previously deserved or not, Alves has pretty much given up those antics the last 4 or 5 seasons.
What he can’t give up, what he doesn’t want to give up, what he shouldn’t ever have to consider, is his skin color. The indignities of being a black player in Spain are such that it is not surprising to hear about racist incidents — Alves’ own teammates have supposedly gotten in on the act, with both Sergio Busquets and Cesc Fabregas accused of using racial slurs, charges they denied and that were eventually dismissed. But leave it to Dani Alves to craft a viral response to racism, one that he claims was unplanned.
In the 75th minute of match at Villarreal last season, a banana was flung at Alves as he prepared to take a corner kick. The immediate reaction of nearly all the people and players in history who have encountered this sort of hateful, malicious act has been to either ignore it or stomp off in anger, but Dani Alves is hardly your typical footballer or human being. So he broke the banana in half and took a bite out of it, almost absent-mindedly tossing the rest aside, as if it was just another power bar in the midst of a game.
That night Neymar, Alves’ new Barcelona teammate and a friend from their time together on the Brazilian national team, published a photo of himself and his son with bananas, accompanied by the hashtag #somostodosmacacos — we are all monkeys. The hashtag and the images went global, with a variety of people adding their own takes, their own translations, their own pictures with bananas. Some saw it as a brilliant move to reclaim the banana jokes, the monkey noises, the entire concept of racially motivated verbal and physical abuse on soccer fields. You pay god knows how many Euros to go to a match and you spend your time enraged that there are people darker skinned than you? Sure, okay. Dani Alves takes your potassium and uses it to crush your favorite team.
I’m not overly concerned with athlete personal lives, even when discussing the 3D personalities of talents who are often viewed in the 2D confines of either their on-field actions or through the dingy prism of the tabloids, but Alves raises things to a new level: his agent, Dinorah Santana, is also his ex-wife. Perhaps even more interesting is the detail that she became his agent after their divorce. You cannot box in Dani Alves. He takes your standard understanding of how anyone operates, and uses it like a wrestler uses a folding chair at Wrestlemania: WHAM! against the world’s back.
Sure, Messi has his father running his business, but Messi isn’t going to divorce his dad — Alves divorced his wife and then handed her the reins to his career chariot. Who does that? Dani Freakin’ Alves does that. He’s either a fire god or a head case, but it’s probably about time we trusted him not just on his personal life, but on his career as a whole.
Alves is a frenetic greyhound, hipster, father, ex husband, teammate, bad-but-constant singer, but he is still a human being doing human being things. I wonder if Dani Alves, born in Juazeiro, Bahia to a farming family, finds his position in life surprising. Not because of talent, of which he obviously has buckets, or workload, of which he obviously has a 30-pack of buckets, but simply because of the weight of numbers against him, because he was born thousands of miles from where he’s making his living. He is not the flamboyant, makes-it-look-too-easy player that many of us think of when we think of Brazilian footballers — Ronaldinho, Neymar — so the fact that he plays into both the joga bonito and the box-to-box athlete conversations has left a lot of commenters unsure of his role, his legacy, and his influence. Is he an attack-minded fullback? Is he a defense-minded right winger? Pilloried for his occasional wayward cross that more often than not simply had no one on the receiving end and then called the greatest right back in the world when similar efforts were buried in the back of the net, Dani Alves the player is at once divisive and conciliatory.
And that player, at his press conference, was again a human being doing human things. He bemoaned a lack of action on his contract extension the week before the Copa del Rey final, using the only leverage he has—the press—as a player against an institution made pretty much entirely of money. And while doing it he slaughtered parts of that very same press corps because you can’t keep Dani Alves from being Dani Alves: irrepressible fire god or self-destructive head case. But that self-destruction has led to nothing negative. Besides his divorce, which went under the radar, what has Alves done other than raise his children and play football? Messi has tax problems, but Dani Alves? He has some tattoos and is probably really fun to hang out with if you’re into drinking Red Bull.
Now that he has renewed with Barça, Alves is free to continue pillaging opposing defenses. He’ll be slowly phased out of the team as his age and Aleix Vidal come more and more to bear, but the sporting aspect is just one of a thousand things creating the rare of win-win situations for club and player. Alves not only retains his spot in the team with, one assumes, a good salary, but he is also able to keep his family in Barcelona, something that cannot have been far from his mind throughout the negotiation process, especially with his ex-wife and the mother of his children as his agent. And so, at 32 years old, Dani Alves gets a year or two in the limelight, contributing to the club that turned him from second-tier buzzword to superstar, while cashing in on that stardom. Later, he can gracefully make his way to somewhere else that offers him that last, giant paycheck he deserves. Things could be worse.
If Dani Alves really is a race car, then his life is doing donuts on the high school football field after a big win … while blaring cumbia. And in our dreams, we are all Dani Alves.