The Argentine’s appointment as Sao Paulo coach has led to the game’s most decorated player returning to his best position in the run-up to Qatar 2022.
Back in March, a training-ground clip of the rookie coach giving the most decorated player in football history a few tips on how to best mark his opponents quickly went viral.
One might think that as Alves prepares to celebrate his 38th birthday on Thursday, having played under Pep Guardiola and some of the world’s greatest tacticians during his time at Barcelona, Juventus, and Paris Saint-Germain, there would not be much left for the Brazilian idol to learn.
The former Chelsea, Inter, Parma, and Argentina striker’s CV is rather slim, taking in a mixed spell with Banfield followed by a rather more successful stint at Defensa y Justicia in his native Argentina which saw the Halcon lift the Copa Sudamericana in 2020, their first major trophy.
The jury was still out on the 45-year-old, though, with expectations sky-high at the Estadio Morumbi following a 2020 season that promised much for the expensively assembled Tricolor but ultimately descended into mediocrity.
Luckily for both the club and their coach, early results have been nothing short of spectacular.
Sao Paulo clinched qualification from their Paulista state championship group last week with two games to spare, winning eight out of 11 matches to date, and scoring 27 goals while only conceding eight.
Their record in the Copa Libertadores is similarly impressive: Crespo’s men go into their third Group E match on Wednesday against Racing Club with two wins out of two so far, netting five unanswered goals to down Cristal and Rentistas.
The legendary right-back spent much of 2020 under Crespo’s predecessor Fernando Diniz as a playmaker or central midfielder, the Tricolor accommodating his wishes for a more offensive role by swooping for ex-Atletico Madrid veteran Juanfran to cover the void further back.
The Spaniard was released at the start of the 2021 season, though, and Crespo has had no qualms in returning Alves to his best role. The loan arrival of Argentine forward Martin Benitez, who has slotted effortlessly into the Tricolor first XI, has also weighed in the positional change.
He might still wear the No.10 on his back but Alves now lines up on the right side of a five-man defense, providing the link between the backline and the attack, which he did so well for more than a decade at the top of European football.
Crespo’s decision was not entirely welcome.
“In Brazil, I need to be right-back because I was the best right-back in the world,” Alves signaled in an interview with the Guardian in April, while also claiming that in his country, seeing him in midfield is “not cool”.
“But if I return to right-back, they will say I’m old. But just look at the statistics. I am performing well. Whoever works with me knows what I can do.”