SALVADOR, Brazil – Brazilian national soccer team captain Dani Alves is returning on Tuesday to Salvador’s Arena Fonte Nova, the stadium where his professional career started.
The 36-year-old right back, who plays for Paris Saint-Germain, is the oldest player on Brazil’s 2019 Copa America roster.
The captain of coach Tite’s squad said he was a phoenix born from the “dust,” not ashes.
“Where I’m from, there’s just dust, not much in the way of ashes,” Alves said.
Born to a poor family in Juazeiro, a town in the interior of the northeastern state of Bahia, Alves will be in the starting lineup when Brazil takes on Venezuela in a Group A second-round match on Tuesday night at Arena Fonte Nova.
“Fonte Nova brings out tender feelings in me, it’s where it all began. Thanks to Fonte Nova and Bahia, I’m known around the world today. You can lose everything you want, except the essence,” Alves said.
Alves, who came up through the Bahia organization, signed his first contract with the “Tricolor Baiano” inside a bus.
“They went to sign another player and I was part of the package. Get this, I didn’t have a professional contract. I signed it on the bus on the way to register with the federation,” Alves said.
“I was able to make 60 reais (about $15 today), which at the time really helped my family. It was a lot. These are funny stories, but inspirational because you can’t stop believing in your potential,” Alves said.
After joining the Bahia organization, the road to the First Division was not an easy one.
In November 2001, Alves finally got his break when Bahia coach Evaristo de Macedo needed to find a right back to replace other players who were injured.
Alves was on his way to play in an under-20 tournament when he got a call telling him to report to the First-Division team.
De Macedo, however, tried out a midfielder at right back and even put a forward in that position before finally going with Alves, whom he kept mistakenly calling Samuel instead of Daniel.
“In the end, my under-20 coach told him he could count on me. He (De Macedo) said the man’s game was for men and the boy’s (game) was for boys. I was pretty young, but I ended up being the best one in the match. I had a penalty against me, I had an assist,” Alves said.
When Alves took the field for the first time for Bahia on Nov. 11, 2001, he was 18.
Eder Militao, the youngest player on Brazil’s Copa America roster, was just about to turn 4 when Alves played in his first professional match at Arena Fonte Nova.
After just over a year with Bahia, Alves was transferred to Spain’s Sevilla.
Later, he would make history with Barcelona, Juventus and now PSG, winning a total of 39 titles.
Alves, however, said he was still hungry and wanted to continue playing and winning.
“I decided when to start my career and I’m going to decide when it ends,” Alves said.
The Brazilian star’s contract with Paris Saint-Germain ends on June 30 and an extension is still not a done deal.