MILAN: Dani Alves is known for standing up for his beliefs, and Juventus will expect nothing less from their “champion” right-back when they host his former club Barcelona in a must-win Champions League quarter-final.
A month after spectacularly overturning a 4-0 first-leg defeat to Paris Saint-Germain to prevail 6-5 on aggregate, Barcelona’s Euro dream remains very much alive ahead of Tuesday’s first leg in Turin.
Even if, as Juve fans noted on Saturday with a fair amount of glee, the La Liga giants will lack their usual swagger following a shock 2-0 league reverse at Malaga in which Neymar suffered a rare sending-off.
For Juve coach Massimiliano Allegri, who saw Alves get his hands on the 2015 trophy following a 3-1 defeat to Barcelona in the 2015 final, Saturday’s defeat was a blip “not worth taking into consideration”.
“For me, it’s still the same Barcelona. When you have players like (Lionel) Messi, (Andres) Iniesta, (Luis) Suarez, and Neymar, you don’t mess up games very often.”
Allegri has called for a “fearless approach” as Juve look for a crucial first leg advantage, writing on Twitter: “Calm, fearless and knowing what we’re all about: coming next from Juve, a game that will leave all our fans in high spirits.”
But when it comes to spooking the Spaniards, long-time Barca servant Alves would likely win hands-down.
With a total of nine winners’ medals, Alves became the second-most decorated player in European competition, behind retired AC Milan legend Paolo Maldini, during an impressive eight-season career at the Camp Nou.
Before becoming the third-most expensive defender of all time when he joined Barcelona for 32.5m euros in 2008, Alves helped Sevilla to successive UEFA Cup wins in 2006 and 2007 and the UEFA Super Cup in 2006.
With Barcelona, he added six La Liga titles, four Spanish Cups, three Champions Leagues, three UEFA Super Cups and three Club World Cups to his impressive haul.
Although causing general surprise by joining Juventus last summer, Alves defiantly laid bare his true feelings only two months ago in Spanish newspaper ABC.
Alves claimed he had been used as a pawn by a “false and ungrateful” board before he took revenge by signing a renewal with a clause that allowed him the “classy stitch-up” of leaving the club for free.
“I like to be where I am wanted, and if I am not wanted then I’ll leave,” Alves said.
“Leaving on a free (transfer) from Barcelona was a classy stitch-up. Over my last three seasons I always heard that Alves was leaving, although the directors never said anything to my face.
“They were very false and ungrateful. They didn’t show me respect.”
– ‘Respect’ –
It is not the first time Alves, who famously picked up and ate a banana thrown at him by a Villarreal fan in 2014, has put his foot down with decision-makers.
After a purported move to Liverpool in June 2006 fell through, Alves raged when Sevilla president Jose Maria del Nido refused an over-the-asking-price offer of 36m euros from Chelsea in 2007.
“In the four-and-a-half years I have been here I have given everything and I want more respect,” said Alves.
But just as Sevilla’s loss was Barcelona’s gain, Juventus are now reaping the benefits of a player still considered one of the best, offense-minded defenders of his generation.
Despite breaking his leg in a shock 3-1 defeat at Genoa last November, Alves came off the bench to score a classy second for Juve in a 2-0 win over Porto last February.
“Alves is a champion, a guy with great drive and and enthusiasm who has won everything,” gushed Allegri.
“Coming on for the last 20 minutes and doing what he did simply underlines his professionalism.”
Incidentally, Alves’s absence means he is likely to be one of just two changes from the Barca side that started the final against Juventus two years ago.
With Sergio Busquets suspended, Javier Mascherano is expected to get a rare outing in the holding midfield role he was more accustomed to before joining Barca in 2010.
Enrique will welcome both Gerard Pique and Ivan Rakitic back following suspension from the defeat at Malaga, while captain Andres Iniesta will also start after being left on the bench at the weekend.