Yes, Dani Alves is good. No, Barça wasn’t stupid.

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:

Stuff changes.

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.

Money.

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.

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In my fantasy life, I’m a Barca-crazed contributor over at Barcelona Football Blog. In my real life, I’m a full-time journalist at the Chicago Tribune, based in Chicago, Illinois.

27 Comments

  1. Davour
    May 10, 2017

    Very true. I was joking around under the last post about Alves and Sandro (I still think we could’ve had a few bucks for Sandro!), but though in retrospect it seems Alves should have stayed, I think it was correct to let him go, as things stood. SR WAS looking promising, but the staff should have known he is no RB, and is needed for other duties at times. So, yes – not filling the void was the mistake, not letting Alves go.

  2. dl
    May 10, 2017

    Dianne saw things clearly, and though it was not explicitly stated: one can approach sports as a metaphor for life. What she describes vis a vis sports fans is completely true for all other things. This, too, shall pass (and I don’t mean the ball).

  3. ikool
    May 10, 2017

    Excellently written. My thoughts exactly on every point. Wish I could post this on every barca forum

  4. Jim
    May 10, 2017

    Yeah, count me in on all counts as well.

  5. *~ Dumangõli - Oüdyaar, Aisalangådi ~*
    May 11, 2017

    \\

    WRONG!
    Barca and its board simply screwed up with Dani Alves.
    Best right back in our history, integral part of all our recent successes and an absolute legend, he should have been allowed to retire at barca.

    this must all feel really horrible for people who let him go.
    he is the one going to the final.

    • georgjorge
      May 11, 2017

      Integral part – legend – I fully agree on those points.

      A question though: Would you have been ok with Barca potentially missing out on winning the league or CL due to Dani Alves costing us points because he wasn’t playing as good as before? Would you have preferred Dani retiring at Barca to having a potentially better and more succesful team during that time? I am genuinely curious here.

      On another note, it’s a pity he isn’t a leftback, because I just would have loved to see a left side of Dani Alves and Neymar putting pressure on the opponent at some point.

  6. xris
    May 11, 2017

    “So a couple of excellent, match-defining performances by a veteran fullback …”
    before dani left (i think) i noticed that he always significantly upped his game for big matches. in this context it would be great if we could have him for those games only and have some young gun playing smaller matches. he was missed last two seasons.
    also this (sry for the link, i hope it is not against blog policy)
    https://static.independent.co.uk/s3fs-public/styles/article_small/public/thumbnails/image/2015/05/07/11/alves.jpg

  7. squeen
    May 11, 2017

    Am I alone in thinking Sergi Roberto is looking better (more intelligent) defensively as time goes by? Perhaps, as the article states, the Barca system is the reason the full-backs often look “caught out”, and the same kind of criticisms leveled at Alves when he was at the club are now landing on Roberto.

    How can one complain about Barca’s defense when we sit (today) at the top of the liga table, with the 3rd best defensive record—despite a, risk-taking overtly attacking style.

    Even the much-maligned midfield has looked firmly in control ever since the Classico.

    Honestly, for me, this has been a hugely entertaining season. Plenty of drama and suspense. Bravo Barca!

  8. May 11, 2017

    It should also be noted that Dani’s performance in the CL games for Juventus is not reflective of the overall performance for them throughout the season. I do not watch Juve myself, so this is coming from a friend of mine who is a die hard Juve fan and watches every game. Alves has been very inconsistent, and as we saw ourselves in his last few years with us, raises his level of play for the big games but is mostly disappointing in the smaller games.

    The big mistake was not letting him go, the big mistake was not replacing him properly. That said, how many RB’s are there available in the market right now that can be bought that could or would replace peak Alves? None. Probably one of the closest is actually the one we bought, unfortunately his injury took him out of the running just as he was starting to find his feet and show his value. Such is life!

  9. Mishti
    May 12, 2017

    Spot on, Kevin, on all counts. Ex-ante and ex-poste, the story of decisions and of life. .

    As Hilal mentions, and I can verify since I follow Serie A myself, the UCL performances are not representative of Dani’s season. I doubt he has it in him any more to play at a sustained level for 30-40 games a season. On the other hand, he did have a bad injury that I thought would end his season, but he came back strong. I do hope that Allegri finds the optimal formula to utilize him. and he thrives at Juve for a few more years like Pirlo did.

  10. georgjorge
    May 12, 2017

    To see the positive aspect of it all: even though Barcelona is out, Dani Alves still has another chance to continously frustrate and hassle CR7 in an important game until Ronaldo’s face becomes THAT face. And isn’t that what it’s all about? ; )

  11. bmb
    May 12, 2017

    I know it’s cliche but hindsight is 20-20. One of favorite writers, Nassim Taleb, once said something to the effect of all decision must be evaluated at the time they are made. My application of that is the following. Let’s there is a factious game involving the roll of the dice. If you number comes up, you win $1,000,000. If it doesn’t, you pay a $1. You roll the die and you lose. Did you make the wrong decision? No, I’ll skip the expected value calculation but that is a bet you should take everyday and twice on Sunday. Switching to sports, let’s say you trade two low value single-A pitchers for Mike Trout. Next day, Trout gets hurt and in two years the pitchers turn out to be the next Kershaw and Koufax. Did you make the wrong decision? No, but it didn’t work out. In an alternate universe, Trout stayed himself and the two pitchers washed out of the league like most single A pitchers do.

    Thinking about DA, it was the right thing to let him go considering the money, Sergio, Vidal, etc. It may not work but the decision making was correct.

  12. Davour
    May 13, 2017

    Word is that Valverde will be appointed. Sounds like a safe choice, but not necessarily bad at all. I admit I don’t know his work enough, but seems to have managed ok with Athletic – more physical, crosses, etc. you might say. But he must adapt to his material. If that indeed IS his talent, combined with good player management, he might be a pretty good choice for Barca. A lot of work, but with a few tweaks we might have a really good season next year, assuming a few players leave and some step up their game a notch. Finding the best role for Messi is key – make use of his playmaking skills, while handling his general lack of defensive contribution. 3313 best so far, but too open, still. 3412? 4312? Will be interesting as hell.

    Another rumour, probably with minuscule substance, is that Verratti prefers RM to us. The angry blood pressure increase in the culerverse, if this should happen, might speed up global warming significantly!

  13. sumitd0704
    May 13, 2017

    Hi Guys,
    Long time lurker here and also a huge fan of the blog. Thanks Kevin and other folks for creating and actively running this space. It has become my go-to place to regain a sense of sanity and perspective in the increasingly polarised world :).

    Btw what are your thoughts on Valvarde as the coach for the next season? With MD and Sports both almost confirming that he’d be the coach next season, it would be interesting to see how this thing unfolds.

    Admittedly Valvarde is not exactly a name that would excite the fanbase as opposed to someone like Tuchel or Sampaoli. Nevertheless, I decided to do a quick study on how much of this perception holds true when you talk about absolute numbers. I compared the stats of Lucho’s Celta, Valvarde’s Bilbao (15-16 season as well as 16-17 season) and Sampaoli’s Sevilla. Thought of writing a separate personal blog-post but I guess I am bit too lazy so just reproducing the analysis here.

    https://preview.ibb.co/n3B2J5/Coach_2017_05_13_23_22_03.png

    So here are some interesting things I found:

    – Although all 3 sides generally tend to dominate possession Bilbao happens to be the more direct of the lot (51% avg possession) while Lucho seemed to have significantly tweaked the tactics for the away games (55% home vs 50% away).
    – The perception that Valvarde adopts attacking strategy in the home games and pragmatic (or defensive) tactics away from the home isn’t completely unfounded as is clear from the difference between the goals scored home vs away. In fact, the % difference is as high as 54% this season (as compared to 34% last season). Quite incredibly Lucho’s Celta scored more away goals than at the home. Sampoali’s Sevilla also scores less goals away from the home although the % difference isn’t that stark (15%).
    – All 3 teams have unsurprisingly conceded more goals away from the home. Bilbao of 15-16 season is comparable to Sevilla of this season in a sense that both the teams conceded significant % of goals away from the home. This season Sevilla’s defensive performance away from the home is considerably worse. Bilbao has markedly improved defensively this season away from the home but at the cost of attacking contribution. They have conceded less away goals this season (22 vs 28) but have also scored less away goals (16 vs 23).
    – In spite of having scored most number of away goals among the lot, Sevilla is a bit worse when it comes to creating chances away from the home (145 vs 148 for Bilbao). This points to the fact they have been lot clinical and ruthless. % change in the number of chances created home vs away is quite significant for Sevilla (28%) as compared to other sides (10% and 15%). Again quite remarkably, Lucho’s Celta was the side that created lot more chances than both Bilbao and Sevilla.
    – Also notable is the fact that Bilbao has relied more on the set-pieces this season scoring 41% of their goals from the set-pieces.

    At the same time it’s important to note, among all other options, he is the one who has operated in the most stringent conditions. We do not even know if he really wanted the side he inherited. The scope of ‘refreshing’ the squad/team is, in fact, minimal in a team like Bilbao thanks to the only homegrown/basque players condition. Also almost everyone who’s played under him talks highly of his professionalism and astuteness. So yes, I’d say I am cautiously optimistic.

    Cheers! 🙂

  14. Jim
    May 14, 2017

    So what’s up with Pique ? Taken to hospital with a stomach bug ?

  15. Messiah10
    May 14, 2017

    To me most of the clamouring for Dani to come back & the arm chair 2nd guessing only exist because of the boards indecision on signing a top RB. Not that I can fault them. As Kxevin mentions we had Vidal & SR. However, anyone who inherited that position for us was always going to be compared, fair or unfairly, to Alves. It’s the nature of the beast when any player leaves a club they served so brilliantly. Imagine stepping into Stevie G’s shoes at Liverpool. Never going to live up to his legend. It’s not possible. That’s what Dani is to our club. A Freaking Legend! 08/09 thru 13/14 he was unplayable. His telepathic understanding with Messi, Busi, Xavi, etc and his leadership & personality will always be cherished by me. Make no mistake though, his time was coming to an end. His age and the opposition tactics made his effectiveness less impactful over the last 2 years. Would I still love to have him in our squad? You betcha. For his insatiable thirst for life alone. However, the squad was/is aging and his salary was needed to blood young players. One word. Umtiti. My hope and inspiration for the future of our back line for a decade to come! I love this young mans ability, talent, potential, confidence, tenacity, and audaciousness.

  16. georgjorge
    May 14, 2017

    Watching RM – Sevilla and just…wow. I haven’t seen such a ridiculous goal being allowed by a referee yet. What do the opposing players have to do, physically deny RM the ball after the foul is called?

      • Davour
        May 14, 2017

        Jesus, that’s nasty! And no consequences? Yes, the fk was apparently correct, though quite strange since the ref blocked the keeper’s vision. Morally questionable but legally correct! And with the posts and bottling from Jovetic, it is obvious RM has the margins on the their side this year. I guess they can borrow the title for a year…

        Apart from Neymar’s masterclass and Busi’s spin heel pass, I will take with me from the game Gomes sprints – suddenly the man looks fast as hell!

  17. TITO
    May 14, 2017

    Of course they will get all the much needed help. How the hell.is that a legit goal when the ref is standing between the RM players and Sevilla players while the foul is being taken????

  18. TITO
    May 14, 2017

    Let’s see if what i’ve been wishing will come true.
    Celta will give us the title.

  19. Davour
    May 15, 2017

    Man, looking at highlights of Marlon’s game. Superb, really. Composed, only stumbled once but still maintained in control. Constantly looking for the best, not the easiest, pass (and accurate at that). Good in the air. Seemed to combine well with Umtiti. If this works out we are looking at what could be a long and beautiful partnership. If only Samper comes back and realises his potential, our central defence is set for years (yes, a bit wishful thinking). Still need another CB addition, but would be wise to get one that is able to play conservative fullback, too. Might provide more minutes for that player, who could then alternate with Vidal and Sergi (who will also be in midfield), depending on opposition. Just a thought.

    Exciting stuff!

    • May 15, 2017

      More passes than anyone else in the XI. Overlooked will be what he had to do to get free to play that ball to Busquets that resulted in the first goal.

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