When a player outlives his usefulness, it’s brutal. And nasty. An exceptionally useful part of a championship team is not any longer and a club has to manage what to do.
And that’s just the club. Supporters also come in to add many additional layers of nasty to the aging process.
There are three kinds of old players:
— Legends, of whom supporters deny any frailty. A 5-minute run of good play against an easy opponent brings the “See? Told you he still has it.”
— Undesirables, who nobody really wanted anyhow so there’s just an odd sort of indifference about that player’s continued presence.
— Damn Shames, players who should be legends but aren’t, and are treated shabbily by club and supporters.
Xavi is an example of a Legend, while Thierry Henry was the most recent example of an Undesirable. Unfortunately, Dani Alves is a Damn Shame.
At present, Alves is dangling in the wind. Barça apparently don’t want him, even though Enrique is on the record as saying he would like to keep him another year. Rumors fly about hither and yon about potential destinations, and many culers bemoan the fact that he’s still with the club even though he is still playing RB better than any other choices available. Every error is a capital crime, every good play a “Hmph! It’s about time!” moment. Jibes about crosses abound and too damned many culers can’t wait for the day that Alves leaves the club, so that someone “better” can take his slot..
For me, Dani Alves is a legend. This status isn’t because he came up through La Masia, or scored eleventy bajillion goals. He’s a legend because he has been an integral part of an excellent football club for an inordinately long time, and gives his absolute best each and every time that he pulls on the shirt. When a player does the best that he can, a coach doesn’t have the right … can’t, really … ask for anything more. “Best” in 2015 might not be the same as the “best” of 2008, but it is what it is.
Dani Alves deserves better than what he’s getting, from club and supporters. Seydou Keita was allowed to leave on a free so that he could have his pick of destinations. That was a lovely gesture that showed how much respect Guardiola had for the player. Meanwhile, rumors about Alves abound, gossip that forced him to take to Instagram to deny. And the rumors are present in part because as far as anyone knows, Barça has done nothing. And that sucks. Don’t leave him hanging. Not cool.
It’s business. Sure it is. But even in business there should be some humanity for a player who has done nothing except play the best that he could, match in and match out, rarely injured or even seemingly tired. Dani Alves, just running from endline to endline. He isn’t the best Dani Alves. But for a time, a LONG time he was, though underappreciated by too many culers, the best right back in the world. He was so good that he was overlooked almost because of that absurd quality. He made it look so effortless and simple, patrolling that side with a ease and grace that made him indispensable to Messi, Busquets AND Puyol.
He became trendy when he began to decline, like that performer whose absolute best work is in the past winning a major award. He became an automatic starter for the Selecao, a long-overdue honor that had as much to do with the quality of and comfort with Maicon as anything else. Detractors focused on his crosses, bits of ambition which even at their best were never paragons of accurate effectiveness. So what. A favorite Alves moment – the match escapes me – was when a loose ball was banged toward the sideline. Most players would have let it go out for the throw. Alves ran it down, turned and started a play that resulted in a goal. Effort. Always effort.
If someone wants to point out that a player isn’t what he once was, cool. But if that player has done what legends do for their teams, respect is still due. Xavi isn’t what he once was, but if the heavens don’t part and angels sing every time you type his name, there is something wrong with your worldview. Iniesta is no longer Ghostface Killah, but he’s still Andres MFing Iniesta. The game and time don’t care, but teams and the people who love them should.
Players sacrifice for the team. We begrudge them coach-approved trips to various places, vacations and the like but we forget how much they sacrifice. Yes, they are richly compensated for their efforts, but they sacrifice. When fathers are at family events, players are at training. Pregancies? They might be able to flit away by quick plane flight for the birth. It isn’t a normal life, and will never be for as long as they are doing what they do.
All that sacrifice, all that playing hurt, and limping around after matches, and recovering from injuries and dealing with stuff that, like Puyol, will affect the quality of the rest of a player’s life and at the end of it all is usually indifference and scorn. And that ain’t right.
“It’s ridiculous that the team still has to rely on Alves. Stupid board.” Okay. Find somebody, even now, who could be dropped in and be a big improvement over Alves. Danilo? Maybe. Eventually. Possibly. Lots of other names are out there, but there are none who do what Alves, when he was rockin’ it, did. So when it came time to think about players, and transfers, the first thing teams do is look at what they have from the context of can that person be improved upon, and how much of a row would it cause with supporters if that person was deemed “surplus to requirements.”
That’s the difficulty of having a collection of icons. For a period, FC Barcelona played the best football that anyone has ever seen. This wasn’t magic. It was hard work in the hands of an excellent coach and a top-quality group of players, every last one of whom would be considered the best or among the best at his position. As people sit, snuffle and deem this or that inadequate, hurl bricks at effigies of sporting directors past and present, the thing worth considering is, simply enough, who in the hell do you replace legends with?
This game hangs onto old players like favored sweatshirts, except when that old player becomes somehow unfavored. Then he is deemed irredeemable, a mess who should have been gone eons ago so what the hell. But the rush to replace icons makes us forget just how brilliant the players whose heads on the block were. If you go down the above XI, is there a player of whom culers would NOT say, “There will never be another … “ Pique for now, but if he keeps on playing the way that he is these days, add him to the roster.
How easy is it to replace a player, and what is the price of an effort to do so? Name a right back that in the upcoming Classic you would be more comfortable with than Alves. Pique is excellent, but there is only one Puyol. The defense hasn’t been the same since Abidal took ill and then left. Xaviniesta isn’t any longer, Henry and Eto’o are long gone. Valdes blew his knee out, left on a free. There will be a time, very soon, when the only players left from the Treble side will be Messi, Busquets and Pique. And that will be weird, but it will also be what happens in the game.
The fate of Alves is unknown, but it should have been decided by now. There shouldn’t be stories about “The club will consider his future soon.” For me, that just isn’t how you treat a legend.