With the Brazil captain set for a midweek return to Sevilla, the club at which he first came to the attention Europe's top clubs, Goal looks back on an incredible career. Ander Herrera provoked widespread derision when he claimed last month that Antonio Valencia “is the best right-back in the world, maybe with Dani Alves". It was a laughable claim but the Manchester United midfielder got one thing right: Alves remains the standard by which all other right-backs are measured – and rightly so. He has been at the top of his profession, the best in his position, for a decade. Few other defenders in the history of the game have enjoyed such a sustained period of success.
As Alves pointed out in a cheeky Instagram post in May he has won more major trophies at senior level than Pele (31, in total). One could argue that the 33-year-old was fortunate to have played for one of the most dominant club sides in football history but, in truth, luck’s got nothing to do with it. Firstly, to suggest that Alves was somehow fortunate to have been a part of Barcelona’s unprecedented era of success would be as offensive as it would inaccurate. He wasn't just present; he was a protagonist – and right from the start, too. His arrival at Camp Nou coincided with that of Pep Guardiola. The Brazilian proved just as important under Tito Vilanova, Gerardo Martino and Luis Enrique.
What’s more, Alves had already enjoyed great success before pitching up in Catalunya, having played an integral role in Sevilla’s back-to-back Europa League triumphs in 2006 and 2007. Indeed, it was at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan where the outgoing Brazilian first came to prominence. He had been signed as a virtual unknown in 2002, arriving from Bahia for just under €600,000. Just four years later, he would be worth 60 times that amount after a succession of scintillating performances down Sevilla’s right flank. He was a right-back – but in name only. Joaquin Caparros wanted him to focus primarily on his defensive duties but Alves couldn’t see why he should curb his attacking instincts. “The full-back couldn’t go beyond halfway,” he told The Guardian of his time in Seville. “I said: ‘Why not?’
“Football is defend-attack, defend-attack or attack-defend, attack-defend. Football has no limits, no rules. [Caparros] changed my position [to midfielder] until he realised that, although I had offensive qualities, I could do both.” And he could. To great effect. In four seasons with Sevilla, he established a reputation as the most swash-buckling full-back in world football; a more than worthy successor to his compatriot, the legendary Cafu. He underlined his dynamic brilliance with a thrilling display against Barcelona in 2007, netting the winning goal in a 2-1 victory for the Rojiblancos, and when Pep Guardiola took charge of the Catalan club just over a year later, Alves was an almost immediate arrival. Even at a cost of €35.5 million, Guardiola knew the Juazeiro native would prove a bargain.
"His signing is very good news for the club," the then new Barca boss said at Alves’ unveiling in 2008. "Along with Messi, if they work together, we will have the best right flank in the world." So it proved.