EXCLUSIVE: Dani Alves Explains How Pep Guardiola Won The 2011 UCL Final Single Handedly
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"I considered myself a kit man at Barcelona. Not as important as other players, but without me, there was no game. Without me, some kind of madness would be missed."
Dani Alves, the most decorated and well dressed player in the history of football, sits down for a long chat with SPORTbible in a swanky hotel in Paris.
He plays for one of the biggest clubs in the world. He boasts a staggering amount of trophies to his name...39 to be exact. He has lifted three Champions League trophies, six La Liga titles and five Copa del Rey's as well as a Serie A winners medal and a UEFA cup during successful spells at Barcelona, Juventus and Sevilla.
But it's his modesty and admiration for others that stand out in this chat, as he recalls memories of glory days in Catalonia under the magician, Pep Guardiola, a person he labels 'a genius' an incredible eleven times throughout.
On the pitch, Dani Alves was the best full-back in world football between 2008 and 2012, but rarely grabbed the headlines during his spell at the Camp Nou. He wasn't a player who could win a game single-handedly...nor was he the most creative player during a time when Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta and Xavi earned the plaudits.
He did, however, bring something else to the table - something that money can't buy.
"Look, my role in that team, for me... I was like the kit man. Without me, they couldn't play, on and off the pitch. I think I was responsible for this madness in our team. This happiness, friendship." he told SPORTbible ahead of the release of Take The Ball, Pass The Ball.
Alves was the biggest character in the dressing room and that unique mixture of different personalities, which included a dressing room of Gerard Pique, Javier Mascherano and Sergio Busquets, was a perfect blend for Guardiola's methods. Exciting. Ambitious. Relentless.
For four explosive years, Alves played a huge part in Pep Guardiola's plans. Some say Barça produced the greatest football in history, seducing fans around the world.
This documentary is a first-hand account of events between 2008 and 2012, as the players themselves, including Dani Alves, reveal all..
He would speak to SPORTbible about his admiration and respect for his former mentor and friend, Pep Guardiola, as well as going into great detail about the Champions League final against Manchester United in 2011 and the impact Eric Abidal's illness had on the team.
Take it away, Dani.
How is it to work with Guardiola before such an important match as the 2011 Champions League final? How does he work during the week? We know he is very intense...
"Honestly, working with Guardiola, no matter the situation, is always surprising. The higher the level of the match...the higher the tension during the match, the more relaxed he is. He tries to avoid you from losing energy before the right moment, because when you start thinking, when you begin to feel the tension of playing one of the biggest matches in the world.
"Unconsciously the anxiety grows and you start, unnecessarily, to loose energy. So that is what he tries to do, the opposite of that. I always say that he is a step forward from us and from what we are thinking. I think it makes our life a lot easier."
We know he studies the opponents. Did he point any weakness of Manchester United?
"Look, I am going to tell you something firsthand, because I think it had never been spoken before: Guardiola won the 2011 Champions League for us, not the other way around. Because we had made an agreement: us, the players, we would win the Spanish League for him and he would win the Champions for us. Because playing in England, against an English team which knows the atmosphere and the difficulties we had to overcome.
"Despite all of that, he told us: "I will make you win the Champions League." And he made us win the Champions League indeed. Therefore, this one he can take to his house. He can get the trophy from Barcelona's museum and take it to his house because he is the one who won the Champions for us."
But how did he make you win it?
"He studied the opponent, he told us everything that was going to happen in the match... everything! No matter what could happen during the match, it was not going to be a surprise for us. He said something very interesting: the score can be 5-0 for us, but the English team will play as it was 5-0 for them, because that is simply how they face the game, how they feel about it.
"He told us: "If they level the match, don't change the way of playing, because that is the only way we will be able to win. And then we scored, United leveled the match... You see, everything that was happening during the match was not a surprise for us. And when they scored, the game restarted, and we were playing the same way, as it had just started, keeping possession, the control of the game. Keeping our philosophy.
"There was a time in that season that we were doubtful of ourselves, thinking: "Another final against the same team, and this time on their country." So it was like: "Yes, we can. No, we can't!" But he was absolutely sure and made us believe that we were capable. He showed us the way and gave the key to everyone: "This is your key, this is yours... Make it work and we will win it." And we made it. We lived that unforgettable day."
You already told about your ritual before the match, looking yourself in the mirror for 5 minutes... In that day, you leave the dressing room, you see Wembley full of people, and then listen to the Champions anthem... Do you remember these moments?
"I remember every moment of that final. It was truly special for me, who hadn't played the first one, which we won, because I was suspended by yellow cards. And everything surrounding that match.
"Barça had won the first Champions at the old Wembley, and now we were getting back there, and we started getting more and more anxious. So every moment becomes unforgettable, because they are unique. I believe these kinds of moments don't happen again. We can play the same competition, reach another final, but it will be completely different.
"I believe that we can't forget any detail of that day because it was absolutely special."
Halftime. The game is tied. Was the feeling in the dressing room something like disappointment, because you played better in the first half? And did Guardiola change anything in terms of tactics?
"No. It was like we had a break just to drink some water and then go back to the game. Because he kept asking: "Don't change the way we play, it's the only way we are going to win and take the trophy home, no matter what kind of troubles we could get during the match.
"This is how we are going to win this tournament.
"It was the same speech. He even told us: "I warned you this could happen!", obviously because of the opponent's quality. But we made the opponent get psychologically tired by not letting them touch the ball, dominating the whole game, in that style of play that for a lot of people is boring but for us was a lot of fun, because the other team doesn't get the ball.
"I believe this is what makes Barça different from the other clubs. No matter what happens, Barça doesn't change the philosophy. It can improve something, get worse in another, but the basis will always be the same.
Did you notice some kind of discouragement in United's players? That face of: "no matter what we do, we can't beat this team?"
"Yes, but only after we had scored the other two goals. Before it, there was still that excitement because they had scored once. At that time, there was nothing much to think, but when the goals started happening and Barça's essence could be shown, with quick passes and not letting the opponent touch the ball, this is frustrating for them.
"Madrid got frustrated, every side got frustrated, because they are not used to play against this kind of team. They are used to play with the ball and without the ball. Against Barça is not this way. The ball is always with Barça."
Messi scored the second one and you celebrated with him kicking the advertisements... What was that? Rage?
"It was a release. We were controlling the game and they had scored in their only opportunity. So it was like: "No, not today. It can't happen. We were born not to waste this kind of chance." Therefore, when Messi scored, we thought: "Now it's done. They can't change it anymore." Because Barça has a huge advantage: Barça knows how to play when leading the score. Barça suffers when it's down, but when it is leading, is the perfect occasion."
When you say it, you mean Guardiola's Barça or every Barça?
"I think Barça in general, but specially Guardiola's. It was a team that, when in advantage, used to triple this advantage. When it was 0 x 0, Barça already used to control the game. But when that Barça scored and the opponents had to be more offensive, at that moment Guardiola's Barça was impeccable.
"After 20 minutes, the match could be 3 x 0, 4 x 0, and the other side could not even realize what was happening."
A lot has been spoken about Guardiola and this incredible team... Is there a particularly special moment for you? Something he told you, something he taught you?
"Yes, I believe the most shocking moment was when he told me he was going to teach me how to play without the ball. Then I said: "He is gonna put me on the bench. Playing without the ball, only on the bench."
"Honestly, he showed me how to play without the ball. So, I did not have the possession anymore, but these were the seasons which I had more offensive and defensive interventions.
"You can ask me how. I answer: "Ask Guardiola! I don't know how to explain. I only know it happened."
Today, how do you feel about Guardiola?
"My feeling about Guardiola is that I worked with a genius. This is what I think and I will never stop saying this. I had the happiness of working with a genius. A guy who saw things before they happen. He extracted the same ideal from everyone. I think only a genius can do it. There is always one who thinks is better than the other and the other way around, but he was able to take away these feelings from everyone.
"He can make everybody understand that things only work out if we give heart and soul."
How special was Abidal lifting the trophy? What happened to him, his sickness... Did it all make that team even stronger?
"I believe that Abidal lifting the trophy, at that moment, was the demonstration that, for Barcelona, the biggest title in life is the human being. We won a really, really tough competition, but what is a Champions League comparing to life? It's nothing, just a trophy in the club's museum, that's it.
"In the next season, you can win it again. You only live once, it's impossible to live again. What that moment represents to me is this: "Here, we have a life champion. Not a professional champion. That's how I see Abidal."
Do you think that match is the higher level a team can reach? Beating United, one of the strongest sides in the world, at Wembley, with such a dominant game. Do you think it's the top quality you have seen a football team reach?
"I am absolutely sure. It was the cherry on the cake of Guardiola's era at Barcelona, for everything involving. Not only because of the match, or returning to Wembley, or the fact that we beat United. It is because everything that happened, everything we experienced that day.
"It was one of the best days of my Barcelona career."
You have talked about genius. Who is the most genius, Guardiola or Messi?
"Different types of genius. One is the action genius, the other one is the extraction genius. Two different things.
"I believe Guardiola is a genius in terms of management, while Messi is an execution genius. I think we cannot compare these two types of genius. It's like comparing two other genius around the world. One is good in one aspect, the other is good in another thing. Incomparable, but both genius."
Alex Ferguson, another great manager, said that Barcelona was the strongest side he had ever played against. How do you feel about it? Do you know what that team represented to football?
"When I was still playing for Barcelona, it was one of the things I treasured the most. I knew people were only going to value that team when it was no longer together. That is happening now. That team's value was immeasurable at that time and still is. When you listen to someone who knows everything about football talking like this, it just confirms what I used to think at that time and still think today.
"These are things and teams that will never happen again, even though the goal can be achieved one more time, because we won the triple later again. But we were not able to play like that team."
How do you see yourself in that team, both in and off the pitch? Your influence in the squad, your partnership with Messi...
"Look, my role in that team, for me... I was like the kit man. The kit man is responsible for the football boots, the shinguard and the kit. Without these things, you cannot play. That was my role.
"Without me, they couldn't play, on and off the pitch. Without me, some kind of madness would be missed. I think I was responsible for this madness in our team. This happiness, friendship... I consider myself a kit man at Barcelona. Not as important as other players, but without me, there was no game.
"There was no shinguard, no boots, no kit. As we cannot play naked, it was impossible to play without me."
What about Guardiola's last season at Barcelona? There was a fall in terms of performances and titles. What happened, and how did you cope with that and with the uncertainty about the manager future at the club?
"In my opinion, the previous seasons were the best for that Barcelona, but the last season was the worst for everybody. It was when he decided to leave and I believe no one could take Guardiola anymore.
"At that point, he had already gotten everything he could from us. We still won a title, because the team was great, but we didn't have anything more to give to Guardiola. Even Guardiola didn't have anything left to give us, because we had already absorbed everything. Things could only get worse.
"It was already happening: everything amazing we had done before was getting bad. Besides, when we already knew he would leave, it was impossible to show that same passion, that same desire to conquer the world. Besides everything that happened that season, we still got a trophy...but it was a very exhausting season for us."
In this exclusive, first-hand account of events between 2008 and 2012, the players themselves reveal the tension of the bitter Guardiola-Mourinho rivalry, the emotion of Abidal's fight back from cancer to lift the European Cup and how Messi, the best footballer the world's ever seen, was almost rejected by Barça as a 13-year-old.