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Transfer Rater: Malcom to Arsenal, Mata to Juve

Football Whispers
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Barcelona hero Dani Alves worth his weight in gold amid contract impasse

On Monday afternoon Dani Alves was being, well, Dani Alves.

In a news conference during which he frankly documented the breakdown of his relationship with the Barcelona board, the Brazilian accused the club of a "lack of respect," tore into Madrid-based sports daily Marca and even danced a jig to his own singing.

As ESPN FC's Dermot Corrigan reported, it was a remarkable performance.

It also arrived on a day that would later see Real Madrid president Florentino Perez call his own conference to announce the sacking of coach Carlo Ancelotti.

This, of course, is Alves all over -- never backward in coming forward and a frenzy of colour and activity on and off the pitch. With his contract set to expire, Barca have long been considering alternatives at right-back even if they are bound by a transfer ban until next January.

The question is, how can you replace Alves? To describe him as just a right-back seems unbelievably reductive to anyone even slightly familiar with his body of work. He is a flying winger, a midfield runner, a playmaker and even (now and then) a defender all rolled into one.

Even at 32, he is at the centre of everything the Blaugrana do. He consistently has more touches of the ball than any of his teammates, including Lionel Messi. His omnipresence is such that it's always a shock to look back at the numbers and see a relatively low number of goals and assists. He directly provided six goals and scored none during the triumphant La Liga campaign.

This is, however, to slightly miss the point. Alves -- on the pitch and as raconteur off it -- is about perpetual movement, an attribute that is absolutely key to the Barca sides he has starred in. They have dominated without being physical giants and ground opponents down with their relentlessness as much as with their technical gifts. Alves has been an enormous part of that.

This level of complicity has been a given ever since he arrived in Europe in 2002 as a teenager, signing with Sevilla from Bahia. In the first game that this writer saw him play in the flesh, an incandescent derby with Real Betis in February 2004, it was no different. His crazy handball in his own penalty area in the opening minute allowed Alfonso to open the scoring for Betis, before Sevilla came back to take a point in an almighty scrap of a match.

If Alves is associated with a high level of technical fluency, the rougher side of the game is as much a part of him, as it was on that sweltering night in Andalucia. A workaholic, he would do anything to win, including bending the rules to their very limit.

That level of commitment was always there. Growing up in a farming family in the Bahian village of Salitre, he got up at 4 a.m. as a child to help his father work the land. Later, while making his first steps into the professional game, he pitched in further in the farm while also working as a waiter to make ends meet for the family.

Just as he outgrew the farm and the village, he later outgrew Sevilla. There had been some glorious times, particularly under Juande Ramos, who unleashed him to become the all-rounder that he is now.

If his importance to Barca might need emphasising for some, that was never the case at the Estadio Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan.

Alves was key to the side that won the 2006 and 2007 UEFA Cup titles and pushed Real Madrid and Barcelona most of the way for La Liga in the latter of those years, before eventually finishing five points adrift.

Barcelona's Dani Alves has always been one to watch on and off the field.

Ramos' team also won the UEFA Super Cup (hammering Barca in Monaco) and the Copa del Rey in that season. When they battered Deportivo 4-0 in the last match before Christmas, Alves scored the final goal and whipped a Santa hat out of his shorts before placing it on his head. He had all bases covered.

Generally, the same has been true of his spell at Camp Nou, a period in which he has won 17 major honours -- a total that could stand at 19 in less than a fortnight's time with Copa del Rey and Champions League finals still to come.

In one sense, winning both would be a perfect way to go out. On the other hand, letting Alves go with neither Martin Montoya or Douglas having the skills to cover him would immediately see Barca's strength drop.

Alves clearly doesn't desperately want to leave. Why else would he smash the ball so firmly back in the club's court, reiterating his commitment to the team ("200 percent") but criticising the handling of his situation, while ruling out a move to Paris Saint-Germain?

Many thought his Camp Nou career would fade after Carles Puyol left -- after all, the captain's athleticism so often covered for Alves when he sped out and left the back door open.

His Barcelona story, however, will simply not die. The end, whenever it comes, will be spectacular.

Andy Brassell is a writer/broadcaster/producer for BBC, Guardian, Mirror, Talksport, BT Sport, WhoScored. Follow him on Twitter @andybrassell.

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