Having knocked his former club Barcelona out of the Champions League, Dani Alves was in no mood to gloat.
Juventus had just reached the Champions League semi-finals, but their right-back chose to console an old friend.
Hours later, an instagram post of Alves embracing a distraught Neymar was simply captioned, “Te amo irmao”. I love you brother.
Few would have imagined then that just four months later the two Brazilians would be teammates again, this time at Paris Saint-Germain, thanks to Neymar’s world record-smashing €222m transfer last week.
Alves’s earlier move has been somewhat overshadowed, but remains intriguing nonetheless after what was seemingly a successful season at Juventus.
“Always I will be grateful to Juventus for giving me the chance to play for them and it was good to win another Championship medal,” the 34-year-old said. “It was not totally the right move for me as a person or as a player, and when I had the chance to join PSG I knew I had to take it.”
Alves has revealed that he did not feel the Turin club, who lost the Champions League final to Real Madrid last season, played to his attacking strengths. At this stage of his career, the temptation to experience another challenge proved too great for him.
“The passion for football in the city is so big and to be part of this PSG project is one of the most exciting challenges of my career,” he said. “On the European stage they are a younger club, but they are showing they want to compete with any club in Europe, to be successful, and for me it is a very exciting time to be here.”
Alves has denied that he played any part in convincing Neymar to move to Paris, but he is happy to once again team up with an old friend and colleague. He also believes that Brazil’s golden boy has matured into a man now.
“For me to play with Neymar at club level again is very special,” he added. “He is not the young boy that joined Barcelona when I was there who I helped settle, he now joins as the biggest player in the world. There is an expectation around Neymar now, but I know that he has the character to be able to handle everything.”
Last season was a disappointment for Unai Emery’s men, with only a French Cup to show for in a season that promised so much more. Alves believes that Neymar’s arrival will rejuvenate the club.
“The arrival of Neymar does two things,” he said. “One it gives us one of the most talented players in the world who can do things on the field that no other player in the world is capable of. Also it changes PSG’s position, it shows the rest of Europe how serious we are about being the best.”
First step for PSG would be to reestablish their domestic superiority, having lost the Ligue 1 title to Monaco last season.
“The expectation at the club now is of course to win the Ligue 1 title every season and that is what all the players and everybody at the club will be making sure we work very hard to do this season,” Alves said. “I believe that we have the best squad, but also we need to work hard, and as a player with experience in winning many titles I will do all I can to help the younger players.”
Yet there is no escaping that PSG’s season would be seen as a failure if the club doesn’t finally land the Champions League, a competition they were spectacularly dumped out of last season by, not so ironically, a Neymar-inspired Barcelona.
“I have had the pleasure of winning the Champions League three times, and I want to use my experience to help PSG win the competition,” Alves added. “I am a player who is motivated by challenges, and it was the club’s desire to not only want to be successful in France but also in Europe that was a big reason for me wanting to become a part of this project. “
Alves, perhaps for the time being perhaps, is more popular at Barcelona than Neymar, and he believes his old club will recover from last season’s troubles.
“Barcelona will always be Barcelona,” he said. “It will not have been easy for them to lose a player like Neymar, but they still have many great players. It is impossible to replace Neymar because there is no other player like him, but I am sure they will look to now bring in some quality players.”
Beyond his new challenge in Paris, next summer should see Alves at what will almost certainly be his last World Cup, in Russia. The scars of the 2014 campaign in Brazil have barely had time to heal.
“What happened in the semi-final against Germany happened, we can’t change the past,” said Alves. “It hurt us as players, and it also hurt us to know how much the fans were hurting. In football you can’t change the past, but you can make sure that you are as well prepared for the present as possible. We have been working hard ever since The World Cup and there is a big determination in the squad.”
With the likes Neymar and Philippe Coutinho at their peak, and other young talent like Manchester City’s Gabriel Jesus increasingly making an impact, Brazil will again be one of the favourites to triumph in Russia. They will, however, have to do something that no South American team has ever done; win the World Cup in Europe.
“It’s true we have special players at the peak of their game but it will take a team effort to win you the World Cup,” Alves said. “Special players like Neymar can win you the big games, or change the big games with a moment of brilliance, that is why they are the best, but to win the World Cup you need more than one or two players. We are preparing well as a squad and there is a confidence again.”
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