Why Dani Alves' Barcelona return could prove a masterstroke from Xavi

Dani Alves & Xavi Hernandez BarcelonaGetty Images

Dani Alves' upcoming return to Barcelona seems as strong evidence as any that if you wish for something hard enough, it will come to be.

“If Barca think they need me, they just have to call me,” the Brazil full-back told Sport in one of his many public pleas to the Catalan's management to take him back, following the rather messy end to his time at Sao Paulo.

Ultimately his wish came true, with help from newly-appointed Xavi, his great friend and team-mate from Barca's glory days of the past decade, who made him his first-ever signing after succeeding Ronald Koeman on the bench.

You could yet be forgiven for holding doubts over the footballing sense of this blockbuster free transfer.

On one hand, we have a 38-year-old right-back who has been out of the European game for the best part of three years, and whose last club spell ended in acrimonious, not to mention underwhelming, fashion.

On the other, an apparent fading giant still reeling from the loss of their megastar leader and crashing from defeat to painful defeat, all the while struggling under a level of debt almost equivalent to the GDP of a small country.

If there is one thing that Alves has shown on a consistent basis these past years, though, it is that his ability and infectious enthusiasm for the game has not dimmed a bit, and he is already raring to go at the club at which he achieved stunning success prior to leaving in 2015.

“I knew within my heart and within my soul that this day would come,” he wrote on Instagram following confirmation of the move.

“See you soon with the same desire to help rebuild the best club in the world!”

For that reason alone, and while he may not be at quite the same heights as he was during his prime at the club, Barca are wholly justified in seizing the opportunity to bring back the former Camp Nou legend.

The presence of a familiar face in the dressing room for Xavi should also not be under-estimated.

The pair enjoyed a fantastic rapport on the pitch, and it is perhaps no coincidence that the coach's first signing is a man whom he knows and respects more than anyone else in the game.

Dani and Xavi spent eight years together as players at Barca, winning 19 major titles, including three Champions Leagues, and it was the Brazilian who took over his team-mate's coveted No. 6 shirt when he left for Qatar, after pointedly asking him for permission and promising, as he told Barca's official website at the time, to "do it justice."

Alves will be charged with transmitting Xavi's plans through to the dressing room once he is cleared to play in January, and will also provide a fiercely competitive, vastly experienced presence on the pitch – where he still has plenty to offer.

Do not let Alves' age, or the manner of his exit from Sao Paulo, fool you. He remains in impeccable shape, racking up over 50 club appearances in 2020 and all 600 minutes of Brazil's Olympic Games triumph over two intense weeks of competition in July and August.

It was a dispute over unpaid wages, not anything football-related, which led him to leave his last employers.

Ten goals and 15 assists in his 95 games at Sao Paulo marked a decent return for a player who shifted up and down the right-wing and into the middle during his two years at the club, while with 44 major titles few in the game can match his winning pedigree – not even long-time team-mate and close friend Lionel Messi.

He is still rated as Brazil's premier right-back, and proved crucial in both their 2019 Copa America victory and in taking the gold medal at the Olympics earlier this year. Only his lack of football in recent months following that Sao Paulo split has led to his absence from Tite's plans, which he plans to remedy as soon as possible.

Dani Alves Brazil Goal50 SLIDELIST
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The danger, nevertheless, for Barca is that Alves could well become yet another eye-catching, expensive signing that looks better on paper than on the field – a profile in which the club has specialised in recent years, with the outcome this current financial and sporting cataclysm.

In Sergino Dest and Oscar Mingueza, Xavi already has at his disposal two promising young right-backs, with added depth available at a pinch in the shape of utility man Sergi Roberto. It is not a position, indeed one of the few, which should be a priority for strengthening in January.

That would be the hard-headed manner of looking at things from Barca's perspective. But Alves adds other elements perhaps harder to quantify in the new coach's squad, qualities they have arguably been lacking in this mediocre start to the 2021-22 season.

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The Brazilian has the star power, the charisma and the hero status to bring fans back in through the gates of Camp Nou, and shake off the funk which has descended on the team post-Messi's departure.

His continued presence with Brazil, meanwhile, shows that he can still compete regularly at the highest level, while when Dani has the ball there is always the chance of something spectacular occurring.

The veteran is not interested in cashing out at an inferior yet potentially more lucrative level. He is driven by his determination to make the cut for Qatar 2022 – and if he can roll back the years and once more light up Spanish and European football in order to get there, it can only be to Xavi and Barca's benefit.