PARIS — When Paris Saint-Germain beat Manchester City to the signing of Dani Alves on a free transfer, many stated their belief that the French capital outfit were paying over the odds for a once great right-back on the decline.
Just over three months into the season, though, the Brazil international is making those sceptics eat their words after a few superlative displays. It has been truly impressive how well he has settled in with his new teammates and how he has established himself as one of the team’s central characters in such a short space of time.
Alves, who will turn 35 next year, has two goals and four assists from 13 competitive appearances across all competitions to his name this season and looks evergreen in the same way Maxwell used to on the left side of the back four — Maxwell also deserves immense credit for his key role in luring his fellow Brazilian to Parc des Princes.
Even Thomas Meunier, the former Barcelona and Juventus man’s rival for the starting berth on the right side of defence and somebody else in good form at present, had to admit he has been impressed by the seemingly ageless South American since his summer arrival.
Speaking with Canal+’s Canal Football Club, the Belgium international declared himself “hurt” to lose his starting role so soon after usurping Serge Aurier last campaign and he also revealed that Alves lives up to his “fractious” reputation sometimes.
Ultimately, though, he was in awe of his positional rival — a player who is a reference for all right-backs in the game.
“He is exceptional,” Meunier said of Alves. “I do not need to paint a picture for you. If he is this efficient and decisive at this age with PSG as he was when he played for Barca and Juve, then it is because he is Dani — for me, he is the best of the best.”
The pair’s healthy rivalry is creating some excellent individual performances from both, such as Alves’ in the 5-0 win away at Angers just before this latest international break and Meunier’s in the 2-1 victory at Dijon in early October.
It is not only on the pitch that Alves has added a new dimension, he has also enriched the squad off of it as well through his wealth of experience, big game appetite and desire to win everything possible again — notably Oryx Qatar Sports Investments’ big dream of the UEFA Champions League.
PSG’s humiliating capitulation away at Barcelona in last term’s edition made it painfully clear that Unai Emery’s squad needed an injection of experience and heart, which is exactly what Alves has brought with him.
It is now not an uncommon sight to see the seasoned full-back communicating with his teammates and organising as much — if not more — than captain and compatriot Thiago Silva.
Alves is also close friends with Neymar and his presence in Paris is important for getting the best out of Les Parisiens’ iconic No. 10.
The two Brazilians have already won the Champions League at least once each and know that if PSG are to emulate Barca, they will have to play significant parts in that together.
If there is one criticism of Alves it is that his friendship with Neymar got in the way of his professionalism during the infamous 2-0 home win over Lyon back in September — the match which gave birth to the “Penaltygate” controversy.
PSG’s No. 32 was guilty of hiding the ball from teammate Edinson Cavani and giving it to Neymar in order to take a second-half penalty but that issue has been laid to rest, for now, and the man from Juazeiro has been otherwise impeccable.
Meunier is right to feel a bit aggrieved at losing his regular spot in Emery’s starting XI. Considering that he is still getting regular games, though, as well as the fact that Alves has proved his equal so far, he can at least feel relieved that the competition is healthy — the sort the former Club Brugge man thrives on.
It is still early in Alves’ PSG career but the first signs have been good and the further the Ligue 1 giants go across all competitions, the more he and Meunier will share the right-back role to keep both happy.
The capital club spent lavishly this summer to improve the team and although Neymar and Kylian Mbappe have started to deliver already and are getting many of the plaudits, there is another success story further back on the pitch and that is Alves — the shrewdest of free transfers.
Jonathan Johnson covers PSG and the French national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @Jon_LeGossip.