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Farewell Dani Alves - Messi's chief assistant and the best full-back in Barcelona's history

Farewell Dani Alves - Messi's chief assistant and the best full-back in Barcelona's history

The Brazilian is on the verge of a move to Juventus after eight trophy-laden seasons at Camp Nou in which he has established himself as the finest full-back the club has ever seen
Sometimes you don't know what you've got until it's gone. Many Barcelona fans love to criticise Dani Alves for lapses in defence or for his constant crossing, yet often overlook his virtues. And when he has left, they may just realise how brilliant he was.

That time is soon. The Brazilian is about to draw a line under his spectacularly successful spell at Camp Nou by signing for Juventus on a two-year deal. It is, without doubt, the end of an era - and what an era it has been.

Alves arrived in Spain at Sevilla on loan in 2002, making his move from local club Bahia permanent the following year after winning the World Youth Cup. At the Sanchez Pizjuan, he twice won the UEFA Cup in 2006 and 2007, as well as a Copa del Rey, a Spanish Supercopa and a UEFA Super Cup. And although a right-back, he became the Andalusians' principal attacking threat.

Real Madrid were interested in signing him up and Alves came close to a move to the Santiago Bernabeu, but joined Barcelona for €30 million (which was a lot back then but doesn't seem so now) and has hardly looked back, winning six Ligas, four Copas del Rey, four Supercopas, three Champions Leagues, three Uefa Super Cups and three Club World Cups. In fact, he has now claimed more trophies than the great Pele and his role in Barca's best-ever epoque cannot be overstated.

In many ways, Alves has redefined the role of a full-back. Given the freedom of the right flank, he has set up more goals for Lionel Messi than anyone else at the Catalan club, including both Xavi and Andres Iniesta, and his pre-match warm-ups with the Argentine attacker are a joy to behold, well worth the entry fee alone.

"Alves is the best full-back in the world," Messi said last year. "It's very difficult to find a player like him today."

Indeed. And while it is common knowledge that Brazilian full-backs like to attack down the line, Alves offers much more than that. His passing and technical ability mean he can link up with the midfield and the forwards to fit seamlessly into Barca's possession philosophy, while also pressing high up the pitch.

Defensively, he has improved as well, and despite making mistakes, those are far outweighed by his fantastic contribution in other areas. Written off mid-way through last season, along with the team itself, Alves produced a stunning second half of the campaign and was fundamental again as Barca won the treble. 

He has lost some of his phenomenal pace that saw him torment defences in the earlier years and is less of a goal threat these days too, but has netted some stunning strikes in his time at Camp Nou and is a player who can always produce something out of the ordinary when Barca are looking for inspiration.

Signed by Pep Guardiola in the Catalan coach's first summer, the Brazilian brought an added dimension to the defence along with Gerard Pique. The latter, like Rafa Marquez, provided distribution from the back, while Alves gave the Blaugrana an extra attacker - and one of the world's best at that - on the right side. With Alves and Messi in full flow, teams often buckled in that sector of the pitch.

"His signing is very good news for the club," Guardiola said at the Brazilian's unveiling in 2008. And he added: "Along with Messi, if they work together, we will have the best right flank in the world."

It did and it still does work wonderfully. Under Pep, Alves often operated as an unorthodox winger, with the more defensive-minded Eric Abidal staying back on the left and Sergio Busquets dropping deep into the defence to protect the back line when necessary. These days with Jordi Alba on the other flank, the idea is similar.

Off the pitch, Alves is also a key figure. Always positive and cheerful, the Brazilian is the heart and soul of the dressing room, someone who tries not to take life too seriously, instead enjoying himself as much as he can while doing what he loves most - playing football.

That includes speaking his mind. Over the years, Alves has hit out at Cristiano Ronaldo, at Jose Mourinho and more recently at Pele. In a world of political correctness, Dani doesn't mince his words and he sent a message to his detractors after setting up Messi's 400th Barca goal last year.

"When we retire, people will ask: 'Who was the greatest?'," he said. "Messi. And who gave him the passes? Dani. My name is there - whether people like it or not." 

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