Watch football. A lot of football. All of the football that you can. So much football that whenever anyone hits “last” on your TV remote it will go to a football channel, even if it is already on a football channel. Watch Spain, England, Holland, Germany, Brazil, Mexico, Italy, Sub-17s, Copas hither and yon, watch all of the football that you can and you will be left with a single, inescapable conclusion:
Players who were janky for one team are geniuses for another. Coaches who were fired get new jobs and sparkle, bench players become stars, stars become subs. It all happens in a game that is so much like life in its transitory nature, which brings us to Dani Alves, one of the many who “got away.”
He has been magnificent in the Champions League semifinals for Juventus, sparking all sorts of regrets, and “Why did that stupid board let him go,” and “We could use him,” etc, among culers. Another thing about life is that a lot of stuff can be true, such as it’s a pain in the ass being a Barça fullback, because you’re on an island. Sergi Roberto was, like Alves before him, constantly in situations where it was him against the world. In some of those situations, he was found out.
Remember how we used to snarl about how Alves’ man always seemed to be able to find space to receive a pass? The same was true of Sergi Roberto’s man, and Aleix Vidal’s man, and Mascherano’s man when he played right back, which got some folks to thinking, what if it’s the way that Barça plays, the high line and possession-rooted attack that takes risks that would be deemed unconscionable by many a coach, such as, say, Allegri.
At Juventus, Alves can play differently because he has layers of backstops as Juventus defends differently than Barça. If he errs, he isn’t screwed. He can be maximum Alves. But even beyond tactics, it’s easy to forget how good Sergi Roberto looked at RB, and how many culers were suggesting that now that Alves was getting on in years and his performance was declining (yes, it was, so don’t even try that), it was time to essay something new. It’s easy to forget, but it happened.
Another thing about life is that two things can be true, that Alves’ time at Barça was up, and he has been of late playing brilliantly for Juventus.
Dani Alves wanted a guarantee, one that the club wasn’t willing to give. Should it have? Sergi Roberto had demonstrated that he was capable of playing the position and it also had Aleix Vidal, whose complexities were at that time still unknown. Yes, the club should have prioritized getting a high-quality RB at the time Alves left, one of the roster errors made that seems more glaring in hindsight. But for all the talk about a board disrespecting him, etc, had that very same board given Alves the terms that he wanted, he would have stayed with the club. Absent those terms, gentle tush busses at peak traffic time on La Rambla wouldn’t have induced him to stay. Because money. And that’s fair, as athletes have limited lifespans in their careers, so why not grab for guarantees?
Every contract, as a player ages, is roulette. Alves left on a free because of a contract that wasn’t renewed. Had the contract been renewed, the club would have had to try to sell him or keep him. He was able to move because he was on a free. Few clubs would have paid a transfer fee and taken on Alves’ salary. It was a game of roulette that it looks like the club lost because of how Alves has been for Juventus, in a different system of defending, in the Champions League semis.
A cool person and high-quality Twitter follow, Diana Kristinne, Tweeted this, which is fantastic:
Modern football has a desperate need to draw permanent conclusions from temporary situations. Which leads to extremism.
So a couple of excellent, match-defining performances by a veteran fullback becomes everyone at Barça being stupid and screwing up, from board to technical staff to coach. But it isn’t that simple. And whether Alves deserved to retire at Barça, as did Xavi and as will Iniesta, is still another question. For me, absolutely. But things didn’t work out that way. That’s also a philosophical question that gets into bought vs raised players, Masia vs “outsiders” and the like. It’s philosophical but also contextual. Nobody is screaming about how stupid the club was to let Victor Valdes leave on a free, because he isn’t the same Valdes, and Ter Stegen is kicking butt. So okay.
Speaking of kicking butt, how about that Pedro? Again his Chelsea performances have many suggesting that the club erred in his departure. Pedro wanted to leave because he got tired of sitting around watching other people play, and understanding that he wasn’t as good as those people. So he chose to leave. People would snarl as Pedro took a pass, tried something then kicked it back to a midfielder but he was playing on a team that constantly faced packed defenses, cowering on the rocks in fear of getting smoked. He has room to run at Chelsea like he used to have at Barça, when he was Pedro! instead of Pedro.
Sandro is banging in goals at Malaga, but who defends against Malaga as they do against Barça? Munir? The same. Players do often change, and grow as they get more playing time but they rarely become a completely different player. If an employee likes to work the night shift, gets hired for a day job and does okay, then leaves for a place where he can work nights and thrives, his former employer wasn’t stupid for letting him go. It’s situational, and can also work in reverse.
Nolito, a player that many suggest Barça was nuts not to sign, isn’t in witness protection. He’s at Manchester City, where he can’t get into the lineup. Why? Because the game in the Prem doesn’t suit his style, so it’s hard for him to find space to affect things because teams defend Guardiola’s side differently. He’s still a delight of a player, he’s just in the wrong setup.
There are few definitive conclusions in football, even fewer right or wrong answers. Players come and go, and decisions are made. Sometimes those decisions look smart (Fabregas) other times they look stupid (Alves). But in both cases, they are what they are, which is a set of stimuli bringing about a reaction. That former lover who lost weight, got a better job and now has you looking anew doesn’t mean you were stupid for letting them go. That’s just life, life situations and what they do.