One of–if not the most–interesting and likable players taking the field in Cardiff for the Champions League final on Saturday is Juventus right back Dani Alves. From his Instagram reggaetonero persona, to his anti-racism banana eating experiment, to the general joy that he plays with every match, it’s hard to find anyone–aside from, possibly, Real Madrid fans)–who doesn’t love Alves.
All that love comes perhaps without even knowing his incredible story, one that he has finally laid out in his own words. Over at The Players Tribune, Alves took an extended look back at his life, from a poor childhood in Brazil’s Bahia region, to suiting for the biggest soccer match in the world for the fourth time.
Aside from tracing his move from his hometown–where he had to travel 12 miles to go to school, each way–to the soccer academy that would lead to his discovery, Alves spoke about almost quitting European soccer upon moving to Sevilla, where he didn’t speak the language and where he’s not getting playtime. “I am in the middle of the hardest six months of my life. I don’t speak the language. The manager isn’t playing me, and it’s the first time I really think about going home.”
And yet, as we know, he persevered, becoming the perfect iteration of the modern soccer wing back, someone who was as comfortable defending as he was charging up the right side of the field and whipping crosses into the box.
His 2009 move to Barcelona threw him into the most famous starting XI of the century, alongside legends like Xavi and Iniesta, and a demigod in Lionel Messi, who Alves states once dribbled circles around the defense in practice with his shoes untied. Alves also states that he’s not mad at Barcelona players or fans, but rather at the executive board that let him walk away on a free transfer last summer. In the article, Alves admits that he told the board at the time that “they were going to miss my spirit. They were going to miss the care I had for the dressing room.”
Not for nothing, Barcelona was eliminated in the quarterfinals by Alves’ new club, while the Brazilian now rides into Cardiff with his third personal treble on the line (Barcelona won the treble in 2009 and 2015, while Juventus already clinched the Serie A scudetto and the Coppa Italia).
On Saturday, Alves will be one of a handful of Latino players looking to influence proceedings; perhaps most notably, his Brazilian counterpart on Real Madrid, Marcelo, will be marauding down the same side of the field, but in the opposite direction. Whether Alves wins or loses, you can tell that he’ll have a great time going up against his national side teammate, just as he did going up against Barcelona in the quarterfinals.
You can read Alves’ entire retrospective at The Players Tribune.