Dani Alves – from 43 trophies to four years in prison

Dani Alves, who this morning was sentenced to four and a half years in prison in Spain after being found guilty of sexual assault, was, until recently, one of world football’s golden boys.

An exuberant and technical right-back, he was an important part of the Barcelona team that set new standards in European football between 2008 and 2016. He played 126 times for Brazil and won 43 titles in a 22-year playing career: a surprising result. number which makes him the second most decorated footballer in history. Only Lionel Messi, his former teammate at Camp Nou, has more trophies to his name.

That success, combined with a tirelessly optimistic public persona, made Alves an extremely popular figure, almost universally. This goes some way to explaining why his hearing, which took place over three days in a Barcelona court earlier this month, was labeled “the trial of the year” in some sections of the Spanish press . Despite his voyeuristic undertones, that epithet captured how spectacular Alves’ fall from grace was.

On December 9, 2022, Alves – 39 years old at the time – was on the bench as Brazil and Croatia played in the World Cup in Qatar. Exactly six weeks later, he was arrested by the Catalan police, accused of raping a 23-year-old woman in the private bathroom of a nightclub in Barcelona on December 30, 2022.

These accusations have now been confirmed by the High Court of Justice of Catalonia. “The court has no doubt that the vaginal penetration of the complainant occurred with violence,” reads a statement released by the court after this morning’s hearing.

Alves has spent the last 13 months in a detention facility about 25km northwest of Barcelona; requests for provisional release have been rejected because he is considered a flight risk and there is no extradition agreement between Brazil and Spain. After his prison sentence he will be placed on probation for another five years. He was also ordered to pay the victim €150,000 (£128,500; $162,700) in compensation, plus legal costs.

Alves started his senior career at Bahia, one of the biggest clubs in the northeast of Brazil. He moved to Spain at 19, joining Sevilla, initially on loan and then on a permanent basis after winning the 2003 FIFA World Youth Championship with the Brazilian under-20 team.

At first, some wondered whether Alves had the physical strength to compete in La Liga. His interpretation of his position, however, has made doubters reconsider. Alves was technically a defender, but defending wasn’t his specialty. He was a free spirit, a de facto winger in the mold of his childhood idol, Cafu.

Sevilla immediately realized that they had to exploit that energy rather than slow it down. Alves was encouraged to move forward, to exploit his speed and skill in the final third. He helped the Andalusians win their first European trophy in 2006, scoring the first goal in the UEFA Cup final against Middlesborough, and was equally influential in retaining the title in 2007. A year later, he became a Barcelona player .

His first eight-season stint at Camp Nou – he then made a brief, largely forgettable return during the 2021-22 season – turned Alves into a superstar. In that period he won six Spanish championships, three Champions Leagues and 14 other trophies, rarely missing a match. You would be hard-pressed to name another full-back who has come close to his influence and consistency over the same period.

It helped that his arrival at Barcelona coincided with that of Pep Guardiola. The Catalan’s possession-focused approach suited Alves perfectly and revealed new nuances in his game. His combination of play with Messi, in particular, has been one of the defining characteristics of what many consider to be the best team of the modern era.

Alves, right, won 23 trophies with Barcelona (Shaun Botterill – FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)

Even after leaving Barcelona in 2016, Alves remained a prominent figure. He reached another Champions League final with Juventus at the age of 34 – “an extraterrestrial”, Juve defender Leonardo Bonucci called him – and won two French titles with Paris Saint-Germain. When he returned to Brazilian football in 2019, signing for Sao Paulo FC, 45,000 fans showed up at Morumbi Stadium to welcome him.

He had arguably never fully replicated his success at club level with his national team. Alves played for Brazil during a long period of change and, strangely, only became a regular starter in the latter stages of his career. He would have captained the Seleçao at the 2018 World Cup, only to be ruled out of the tournament due to injury. However, he wore the armband the following summer, leading Brazil to a Copa America victory on home soil.

Alves’ attitude – cheerful, cheeky, seemingly carefree – probably earned him even more admirers than his abilities. A little personality can go a long way in an extremely serious sport like football, and the Brazilian has always seemed determined to bring it with him onto the pitch rather than leave it in the changing rooms.

Over time, Alves leaned into this persona, becoming a full-time cultivator of his own image. He dabbled in modeling, released a single and embraced social media. He seemed to have a tambourine or drum in his hand every time he got off the Brazilian team bus. He transformed his character description (“good fool”) into a slogan. Every time he signed an autograph, he drew a smiley face inside the capital D.

Alves played for PSG from 2017 to 2019 (Aurelien Meunier/Getty Images)

It has become a rite of passage for players to publish long first-person pieces on the Players’ Tribune website. Alves wrote two: one about his modest upbringing and another that reflects on the pain of missing the 2018 World Cup. “Dani Alves won’t go to the World Cup,” we read in an emblematic line, “but he’s still one of them”. happy son of a bitch.

Later, when he moved to São Paulo, the same website produced a seven-part documentary on Alves’ life. In one episode he talks at length about his iconoclastic fashion sense, assaulting the camera in a series of designer jackets. In another, he talks about his relationship with music. Episode three is about Alves reconnecting with his two children from his first marriage. His title is The Family Man.

That strand of Alves’s reputation now lies in tatters along with all the others.

In early February, Catalonia’s High Court of Justice heard testimony regarding Alves’ “slimy attitude” from the victim’s friend, who was present at the Sutton nightclub on the evening of the incident. While the victim’s statement was made in private, his testimony – previously reported by Atletico based on evidence from previous hearings – gave a detailed account of Alves holding her against her will in a toilet and penetrating her without her consent.

Alves was sentenced to four and a half years in prison (ALBERTO ESTEVEZ/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

This morning, the court confirmed this version of events, concluding that Alves had “abruptly grabbed the complainant, threw her to the ground and, preventing her from moving, penetrated her vaginally, despite the fact that the complainant had said no, that she wanted to leave.”

In a statement, the court said that “the insults to the victim made it more than clear that there had been violence to force her to have sexual intercourse” and that “the accused subjugated the victim’s will through the use of violence ”. ”.

Defense lawyers intend to appeal the decision.

The emphasis of the sentence, however, makes it difficult to look at Alves with the same eyes.

(Photo: Getty Images; design: Eamonn Dalton)