London – Dani Alves came close to tears when Juventus defeated his former club Barcelona in the quarter-final of this season’s Champions League but says he felt disrespected by the Catalan club when he left Camp Nou for the Serie A champions a year ago.
The right-back is expected to start against Real Madrid in the final on Saturday and has been in exceptional form during Juventus’s European run, creating three of their four goals in the semi-final against Monaco and scoring the other. But, writing exclusively for the Players’ Tribune website, he explained his affection for Barça led to some mixed emotions after the 3-0 aggregate win in April. “When we beat Barcelona in the Champions League I walked up to my brother Neymar and gave him a hug,” he said. “He was crying and a part of me felt like crying too.”
Alves, who spent eight years at Barcelona before departing on a free transfer with a year left on his contract, says they are “still in my blood” and he remains frustrated by the manner of his exit.
“Was I disrespected by the board of directors before I left the club last summer? Absolutely,” he said. “That is simply how I feel and you can never tell me any different. But you cannot play for a club for eight years and achieve everything that we did and not have that club in your heart for ever. Managers, players and board members come and go but Barça will never go away.
“ Before I went to Juventus, I made a final promise to the board at Barcelona. I said: ‘You’re going to miss me.’ I didn’t mean as a player. Barça have plenty of incredible players. What I meant was they were going to miss my spirit. They were going to miss the care I had for the dressing room. They were going to miss the blood I spilled every time I put on the shirt.”
Alves won 23 trophies there – with three European Cups and six La Liga titles. He was one of Pep Guardiola’s first signings, arriving from Sevilla in 2008, and describes his former manager as a “genius”.
“Pep would tell you exactly how everything was going to happen in a match before it even happened,” he said. “The sensation when we left every one of his pre-match talks was like we were already up 3-0. We were so empowered, so prepared, it felt like we were already winning.”
Guardiola, who is under pressure to begin replicating that success at Manchester City, reshaped Alves’s understanding of football. “Pep was the first coach in my life who showed me how to play without the ball,” he said. “And he wouldn’t just demand that his players change their game, he would sit us down and show us why we wanted us to change with statistics and video. Those Barça teams were pretty much unbeatable. We played by memory. We already knew what we were going to do. We didn’t have to think.”
Alves played alongside Lionel Messi at Barcelona but believes Juventus have a comparable talent in the Argentina forward Paulo Dybala, who should start behind Gonzalo Higuaín in Cardiff. Dybala scored twice in the quarter-final against Barça. “In training one day, I saw something in Dybala I had seen before in Messi,” he said. “It was not just the gift of pure talent. I have seen that many times in my life. It was the gift of pure talent combined with the will to conquer the world.”
Juventus seek their first European Cup since 1996 and Alves believes his team go about things in a different manner to the free-flowing Barcelona of which he was an integral part. Victory against Real would feel sweet but the motivation has nothing to do with his feelings towards his old club.
“At Barça, we played by memory,” he said. “At Juve, it’s different. It’s our collective mentality that has carried us to the final. When the whistle blows, we simply find a way to win no matter what. Winning is not just a goal at Juve, it’s like an obsession. There are no excuses.
“This Saturday, I have a chance to win my 35th trophy in 34 years on earth. It is a special opportunity for me, and it has nothing to do with proving to the Barcelona board that they made a mistake in letting me go.”
The Guardian Sport