Arrest shatters Dani Alves’ image as soccer’s witty winner

Sports

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Dani Alves has spent his first night in pre-trial jail for alleged sexual assault in Spain, an incident that has left his wife distraught and shocked the soccer world.

If he is found guilty, it will also destroy the already severely damaged reputation of one of soccer’s most popular players.

The Brazilian star, who denies any wrongdoing, has many more days ahead of him at the prison near Barcelona. Unless he wins an appeal to reverse the judge’s decision to deny him bail, he will remain weeks, even months, behind bars until a trial is set.

The 39-year-old Alves was arrested on Friday by Spanish police after they spent days carrying out a preliminary investigation into the accusation from a woman claiming he sexually assaulted her in a Barcelona nightclub last month.

A judge agreed with state prosecutors after hearing the testimonies of Alves, his accuser and a witness that he should remain jailed, without the right to bail.

Barcelona coach Xavi, who played with Alves for seven trophy-laden seasons at Camp Nou, said he was stunned and saddened.

When Xavi returned to Barcelona as the coach midway through last season, he gave his approval to the club bringing back Alves for a second stint to provide his struggling side with some leadership.

“It is difficult to comment on his situation,” Xavi admitted on Saturday when asked at a regular news conference for Barcelona’s next match.

“I am surprised and stunned. I am in shock. The justice system will decide what it must, we can’t get into that. I feel very bad for him, because I know him.”

Under Spain’s sexual consent law passed last year, sexual assault takes in a wide array of sex crimes from on-line abuse and groping to rape, each with different possible punishments. The worst case of rape including violence can receive a maximum sentence of 15 years.

Neither the police nor the court would disclose any details of Alves’ case, and the Spanish press has included differing accounts of the alleged events, ranging from Alves supposedly groping the woman to him allegedly raping her in a club bathroom.

Before his arrest Alves denied any wrongdoing. He acknowledged he had gone dancing at the high-end club but said he did not know the woman and insisted that he always “respects the personal space” of others.

Alves is married to Spanish model Joana Sanz. She publicly defended him before his arrest. With her husband in pre-trial prison, she expressed the pain produced by the incident that’s come shortly after her mother died. She also asked for the media to respect her privacy.

“My mother passed away a week ago. I have barely started to cope, so I can’t have you (the media) tormenting me with the situation of my husband,” she wrote on Instagram. “I have lost the only two pillars of my life.”

Alves is synonymous with winning and an example of how an athlete can stay at an elite level despite pushing 40 years old. A rocket-fast right back in his youth with a vicious long strike, he morphed as he slowed with the years into a passer who could excel in the midfield.

He has won 42 titles, including three Champions Leagues with Barcelona and two Copa Americas with Brazil. He played his third World Cup, the only major title to elude him, last month.

Alves has also been one of soccer’s most charismatic figures. He loved to ham it up for any television camera and joke with teammates. His flair for the turn of phrase, along with his crystal-green eyes, devilish grin and weakness for colorful fashion off the field made the diminutive Alves stand out even in the character-filled sport.

A consummate showman, he deployed his wit to devastating effect when he was the victim of a racist act while playing for Barcelona at Villarreal in 2014. When a spectator hurled a banana at his feet on the sideline, he nonchalantly scooped it up, peeled it and took a bite before proceeding to take a corner kick. His move went viral and became rallying point against racism in soccer.

Now his image as one of soccer’s wisest minds is at risk of being shattered.

Mexican club Pumas took only hours to terminate the contract Alves signed in July, on hearing of his arrest in Spain. Pumas president Leopoldo Silva said his club could not be linked to a player whose acts could damage its mission to hold up its athletes as “role models in Mexico and throughout the world.”

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