At the end of “Take the Ball, Pass the Ball,” the documentary about Pep Guardiola’s all-conquering Barcelona team of 2008-2012, the coach remarks that he is often asked whether his was the greatest team of all time.
He says that, much like a new book or a new film, it is too early to tell; instead, the answer will only become clear as the years pass.
“We’ll know the answer in 25 years,” he says. “It depends if people are still talking about us. If after 25 years we’re still talking about a book, that’s because it’s good. If we’re still watching a film in 25 years’ time, it must be good.”
Such is the impact Guardiola had on his players during that time, there are few superlatives left to describe him as a coach and a person but none eulogize about the Catalan quite like his right-back during those seasons, Dani Alves.
When the same question is put to him, Alves certainly doesn’t need 25 years for the answer to become clear to him.
“I don’t think this team was the closest to perfection as possible, I think that team was perfection,” Alves tells CNN, speaking after the release of his series with The Players’ Tribune.
“I think it’s a very, very, very easy question to answer because I think I was part of the best team in the history of football; for the way they played, for the way they did things, for how they complimented each other, it’s Barcelona.
“So for me it’s always an easy answer. I was there eight years, I won 23 titles alongside my teammates, I think it was something very historic. I am a small dreamer but that time in my career is still the most special because I accumulated unique things, unimaginable things.”
Such was the rampant success of that side, Alves secured the unique achievement of becoming the first player in Europe to win seven major trophies in one season – winning all six titles on offer for Barcelona in 2008/09 and going on to win the Confederations Cup with the Brazilian national team.
In total, Alves has accumulated 40 major titles – more than half of those coming from 2008 to 2016 while at Barceclona – across an 18-year professional career that has seen him play for Bahia, Sevilla, Juventus, Paris Saint-Germain and, currently, Sao Paulo.
Though the awe-inspiring performances during Guardiola’s tenure at Barcelona are hard to count, the high point of those four years is often considered to be the 25-minute period at the start of the second half in the 2011 Champions League final against Manchester United.
It led United manager Alex Ferguson to admit it was the most one-sided match his team had been involved in, one in which he felt powerless to change anything.
Guardiola has said it was the “perfect illustration” of the vision he had for his Barcelona team but likens his influence to a golf caddie, instead giving credit to his players for executing the plan.
Alves, respectfully, disagrees.
“I think Pep is a genius,” he says. “A genius that football gave us as a gift, as a coach, as a person. How he got the best out of every player – those that played a lot, those that didn’t play as much – creating a synergy with a lot of respect between those inside the team.
“That puts him in a very special position in my life and a very particular position. I think he’s a nonconformist genius, a methodical genius, a perfectionist genius and I think that makes him unique.
“Wherever he goes, he can win more or he can win less, but I think a player that works with him will never be the same. Every day is a learning (curve), it’s a class like you were going to college. It’s a discipline because you learn something more.”