Dani Alves jokes that Paris Saint-Germain are still Champions League “virgins”, but the presence of players like himself only helps make them more credible contenders to win the trophy.
In a glittering career, Alves has won the Champions League three times with Barcelona and reached another final with Juventus.
He is a veteran now, his 36th birthday falling several weeks before this season’s final, and he is conscious of what players like him and goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, now 41, can add to a PSG squad already featuring Neymar and Kylian Mbappe.
“We know how to win and how to lose. What we try to transmit to the others is that either we all go together in the same direction, or we leave the doors open to a defeat,” Alves tells AFP in an exclusive interview.
He is speaking at the club’s training ground in the upmarket Paris suburb of Saint-Germain-en-Laye, 48 hours before their last 16, second leg at home to Manchester United.
The mood is relaxed, with confidence high in Paris that Thomas Tuchel’s side will make good their 2-0 first-leg win last month, achieved without Neymar and Edinson Cavani, the two superstars both out injured.
“This is not a competition that depends only on one player having a spectacular day,” he insists.
“When you have experienced players, you don’t tremble when it comes to playing in a hostile atmosphere, or under pressure.”
THE RIGHT SIDE DISHES
In his first campaign at PSG last season, they were knocked out at this stage by Real Madrid, the first time Alves had not been involved in the quarterfinals of the Champions League in a decade.
It was an enormous disappointment for Paris and their Qatari owners, who had just paid the two biggest transfer fees in history for Neymar and Mbappe.
“I always talk about how we have special players here, like ‘Ney’, like Kylian, like ‘Edi’, who at some point can make the difference, and we have to help them,” Alves says.
“Otherwise it would be like having a big meal without the right side dishes, and it wouldn’t have the same flavour.”
But what dish would he be?
“I’d be the fish, with the calm head, but at the same time…”
He uses his hands to motion a fish swimming through the water, the gesture suggesting a playful element, a touch of madness mixed with the intelligence.
Alves, a brilliant full-back with limitless energy, has recently been reinvented as a midfielder, fully recovered from the knee injury which saw him miss last year’s World Cup.
A GREAT YEAR?M
He is happy in Paris, and the happiness is infectious.
“I like to get on with everyone. I ask myself how I can get on with this guy, with that guy. Because what happens on the pitch sort of reflects how things are off it,” he says as he discusses getting along with a squad full of big names.
“We spend more time here than we do with our families, so you need to get on with people, have fun, and that is reflected on the pitch.
“We try to put the egos to one side – because like it or not people have egos.
“We need to not let that show through, because then you stop thinking about being happy, and life is not about being right, it’s about being happy!”
It is certainly easy to see how he might be happier now in Paris under Tuchel, a warmer, more charismatic coach than his predecessor, Unai Emery.
PSG don’t just want to get past United – they want to go beyond the last eight, something they have not managed since the Qatari takeover in 2011.
“We are lucky this year to have a management team that is liked, respected by everyone, that there is an incredible atmosphere,” he says.
“Everything has been put in place to make this a great year for us.”