When Dani Alves returned to Brazilian football in 2019 after starring in Europe for almost two decades, two goals above all were key to his homecoming.

One year later, though, things are not going to plan. Sao Paulo saw out their failed Copa campaign on Tuesday with a 5-1 thrashing of Binacional in Group D’s dead rubber clash, a result only good enough for third place behind River Plate and Liga de Quito.

Despite reinforcing with the likes of Alves, Atletico Madrid legend Juanfran and former Milan prodigy Alexandre Pato – whose contract was rescinded in August – the second-tier Copa Sudamericana is Sao Paulo’s fate, a huge disappointment for the Brazilian giants.

Their failure to decide exactly what to do with the exuberant full-back who refuses to be a full-back, moreover, has played at least some part in their failure.

“It would be crazy to play me at the back now,” Alves asserted to reporters back in July, while the Brazilian and South American game was still on Covid-induced hiatus, insisting that it was as a Xavi-esque withdrawn playmaker that he now felt most comfortable – “from there I have managed to help the team have more balance and play.”

In fact the 37-year-old has bounced across the Sao Paulo starting XI since Serie A and the Libertadores began, playing in six different positions – including at right-back – in just 12 games.

That instability, added to a broken arm which ruled him out of both Sao Paulo’s opening Copa matches in South America, has hindered Alves from making a big impact, contributing just two goals in 14 games across the competitions; although he has indeed looked happiest running the midfield from deep.

Alves’ positional switchings have also had an adverse effect on his international prospects. Just one year ago he was the star of Brazil’s Copa America triumph. He was, however,not included at all in the nation’s recent World Cup qualifying squad, with coach Tite opting for Palmeiras youngster Gabriel Menino over the veteran and stating that if he is not playing at right-back, he will not be considered for selection.

While his efforts on the pitch have been subdued, Dani has not failed to catch attention away from it. The build-up to Sao Paulo’s must-win clash at River Plate in September saw Alves pose with the shirt of their arch-rivals Boca Juniors, while also posing with Xeneize staff in a clear contravention of Covid protocol.

River prevailed 2-1 to send Sao Paulo out of the Libertadores with one game to spare and Alves was left to march back down the tunnel seething and alone, while the social media memes from River fans swiftly began to circulate at his expense.

It was the Tricolor’s third defeat in Group D following losses at altitude to Binacional and Liga de Quito, an unacceptable figure for a club that has invested heavily in their bid to be crowned kings of South America.

The player’sinsistence on posting videos of social gatherings while recovering from his broken arm – and supposedly working under isolation protocol – also did little to endear him to fans and directors alike, particularly a clip of Alves laughing with friends and hitting a drum with the injured extremity hours before his team-mates were defeated in Quito.

“It’s forbidden to be happy… Law 171,” he stated in an ironic Instagram response, while Goal learned that he even came close to walking out on Sao Paulo altogether in a bid to resume his European career . Dani ultimately stayed put at the Estadio Morumbi, but the chances of him staying at the club until the end of his contract at 2022 look slim indeed.

All is not quite lost. Despite the distractions of the Copa Sao Paulo continue to hold their own domestically, currently occupying fourth place in Serie A, seven points behind leaders Internacional but with two games in hand.

Victory over lowly Botafogo on Sunday would further strengthen their title credentials, with Inter hosting reigning champions and second-placed Flamengo in a daunting top of the table clash the same day.

The Brasileirao is not the crown Dani covets, though. “I am here to fulfil a dream to win the Libertadores,” he said prior to the River match. “It is not demagogia: when it comes to understanding the game and the experience I possess, I am ahead of my team-mates.”

Source : goal.com

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