Barcelona legend Dani Alves signs for Mexican club UNAM Pumas to keep up World Cup dream at the age of 39


Dani Alves has 44 titles to his name, but they do not include the World Cup – which is why Daniel Alves has now gone to Mexican football.

The 39-year-old right-back has signed for UNAM Pumas because he needs to play, to keep himself in rhythm for what he hopes will be the crowning glory of his career.

Injury forced him out of the 2018 World Cup. Four years earlier he lost his place to Maicon during the course of the competition, and in 2010 he was used more as a right side attacking midfielder.

Qatar is his last chance – and many will be surprised that, at his advanced age, he is even in contention.

But as long as he is getting a regular game, then he is a certainty for the squad, and will not travel to the World Cup as a mere reserve – he will be fighting with Danilo of Juventus for a place in the starting line up.

There are a number of explanations – some to do with his undoubted quality, others with the lack of competition. At the root of them is a question; what do Brazil want from the full backs?

For years Brazil kept the midfield narrow, leaving the flanks as corridors where the full backs were expected to work up and down, keeping the pitch wide – the main reason that Maicon was preferred to Daniel Alves at right back in 2010 and ended up winning the contest in 2014.

But times have changed. Wingers have returned. Brazil have more of them than they know what to do with – and, at this stage, are planning on starting their World Cup campaign with Raphinha wide on the right and Vinicius Junior on the left.

With genuine wingers, there is no need for the full backs to keep hitting the byline – though they are certainly free to do this from time to time.

Alex Sandro at left-back has the lung power to join up with the attack, either going wide or cutting inside to the penalty area.

At right-back coach Tite is looking for someone to hold the line, to cover space and push in to make the extra man in midfield and to construct from deep with an intelligent range of passing.

Dani Alves can do all of that – and can also appear in the front line from time to time as an element of surprise. The coach acknowledges that, at the age of 39, there is no way that Alves is still able to work the entire flank.

But in this deeper role, where talent and experience count for more than lung power, Tite is confident that the player is up to the task.

Tite has good reason to be confident. Aside from Danilo, there does not seem to be anyone else around to do the job. The change in focus and functions has been hard for young Brazilian full backs.

Once their role was clear – they were auxiliary wingers rather than defenders, and they were certainly not midfielders. Times have changed, and the new crop of full backs have yet to adapt.

The only other right-back to have spent much time in the national team squad has been Emerson Royal of Tottenham.

But Tite has doubts about him – which were confirmed by a foolish first half red card in a World Cup qualifier away to Ecuador.

And anyway, with Antonio Conte’s back three system at Tottenham the player has not been playing as a full back.

And so everything is set up for Dani Alves to use this move to Mexico to keep himself in shape for one last tilt at glory.

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