Brazil’s Chuckle Brothers: What makes Marcelo and Alves so alike
Real Madrid's Marcelo and Juventus' Dani Alves face each other in the Champions League final this Saturday. Jack Lang takes a look at two of the finest - and funnest - full-backs in history...
"We've got a certain way of interpreting the position. We don't want people to see it as boring. In that role, you're everybody's friend: the full-back is a friend of the defence, friend of the midfield, friend of the attack. Looking at the position like that is just more... fun."
As far as Daniel Alves is concerned, fun is usually the right word. The same can be said of Marcelo, his Brazil team-mate, long-time rival in the European game and – give or take a few years and a few stylistic nuances – footballing mirror image. Not only are they two of the finest full-backs of the modern era; they have also brought sunshine and light to the position.
Boring? They couldn't be if they tried. Think back to the Champions League semi-finals and try to keep a grin off your face as you think of Alves haring it into Monaco territory to provide a backheel assist to Gonzalo Higuaín, or nonchalantly clattering home that volley to end Monaco's resistance at the Stade Louis II. Or Marcelo, plotting a slalom skier's course through the Bayern Munich backline and then, when most would have succumbed to ego, rolling the ball square for Cristiano Ronaldo to score.
Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo celebrates scoring their third goal and his hat-trick with Marcelo and Gareth BaleReuters
Arguably, no two players were more influential as Real Madrid and Juventus booked their places in Saturday's final in Cardiff. Given their position, and considering the other players that Marcelo and Alves shared the pitch with across those four matches, that is saying something.
There are other attacking full-backs, but few near their level and none who make more compelling demands for your attention. 53 trophies between them, most of them in Europe's toughest competitions, tell some of the story, but their true greatness is to be located in the heart. To watch them play is to remember why you fell in love with football in the first place.
There is a wide-eyed, forward-facing innocence to their play. It is there in every foray down the flank, every daft bit of skill, every laser-guided cross. Every celebration and off-field interaction, too: Alves is what Brazilians would call brincalhão – a joker, a goofball – and Marcelo is no shrinking violet. They are serious competitors and seriously good at their jobs, but neither fact quells the feelgood factor. Nor should it, either.
Alves, still irrepressible at 34, has lent Juventus thrust and end product down the right ("Did you see his assists? That's what a central playmaker does!" marvelled Max Allegri after the first leg of the Monaco tie) but also knowhow: the veteran has three Champions League medals on his mantelpiece and his team-mates have all sought to tap into that mentality this season. "He's a big winner," Leonardo Bonucci has said. "You can see that clearly."
Bonucci has also called him an "extra-terrestrial" and has a point: this will be Alves' 30th appearance in a final, across the Champions League, Europa League, Club World Cup, UEFA Super Cup, Copa América, Confederations Cup, Copa del Rey, Spanish Super Cup and Coppa Italia. He's won 24 of them and his recent form, after an injury-disrupted winter, suggests he is hell-bent on making that 25 in Wales.
Marcelo still looks like the local stoner who is an unexpected five-a-side whizz, but he plays like a man possessed by something altogether more potent. His barrelling runs down the left make him Madrid's most consistent attacking outlet, but he's just as likely to pop inside to swap passes with Luka Modrić and Toni Kroos, helping to weave the midfield patterns before scuttling into space.
The 29-year-old, too, is a big-game player: witness his late winner against Valencia, his assist in the Clásico. He's already scored in a Champions League final, too. His energy, says Zinedine Zidane, is "contagious". Roberto Carlos thinks he is the best in the world. Tostão, the former Brazil striker and now a respected newspaper columnist, has made repeated calls for him to be included in the national team as an out-and-out winger, so convinced is he of Marcelo's attacking quality. Everybody's friend indeed.
Yet it has not always been this way: both players have had their doubters. Marcelo, now a decade into his Madrid career, was long viewed as unreliable by a certain section of the Bernabéu – a playground player who could enrage as well as enchant. He did not start the 2014 Champions League final, Carlo Ancelotti preferring Fábio Coentrão on the left of his back four.
Alves, of course, was jettisoned by Barcelona in the summer, the message clear: sorry, old chap, but we think Sergi Roberto and/or Aleix Vidal will do a better job at right-back. That looked misguided at the time; it looks absolutely hilarious now.
Gonzalo Higuain, Dani Alves, Paulo Dybala, Champions League 2016-17 (Getty Images)Getty Images
For Brazil, too, both are now sure things, but it was not always so. For years, Alves found a Maicon-shaped obstacle between him and the starting XI. He popped up in midfield on occasion, but largely had to swallow the frustration of being a deputy. Marcelo has had Filipe Luís to contend with and was exiled for a time after the terminally truculent Dunga took exception to him withdrawing from the squad one time too many. Only during Luiz Felipe Scolari's reign and now, under Tite, have the pair regularly started together. But when they do, Brazil find their groove. No surprise there.
They will be in direct opposition on Saturday, of course, and it will be intriguing to see who gets the upper hand. But there's one thing you can be sure about: both will attack, attack some more and do so with more joyful abandon than anyone should reasonably be able to muster in such a high-pressure match. Full-back might not always be the most glamorous position, but nobody told Brazil's Chuckle Brothers.
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