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'Messi will break Dani Alves' record' - Ex-Barcelona ace Maxwell talks trophies and 'Uncle Zlatan' sleeping on his floor

09:00 BST 17/04/2022
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In an exclusive interview with GOAL, the Brazilian discusses a remarkable career which saw him win 37 titles alongside several superstars

When fans think of the most decorated players in football history, the usual names tend to come to mind: Dani Alves, Lionel Messi and Andres Iniesta.

Maxwell, though, is often overlooked.

The Brazilian was a multi-talented left-back in his playing days, but he also had a nice habit of being in the right place at the right time, as underlined by the fact that he played for Inter, Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain during the most successful period of each club's history.

All in all, he won 37 trophies across a glittering career, making him the most decorated footballer all of time – until, of course, his title was taken by his former Blaugrana and Brazil team-mate Alves.

Of course, both Iniesta and Messi subsequently drew level with Maxwell's tally themselves before the Argentine pulled one clear by racking up his 38th title at club and international level by leading his country to victory at last summer's Copa America.

With the attacker having since joined PSG, who are currently running away with Ligue 1, Maxwell now believes that Messi, 34, is likely to end up with even more silverware than the 38-year-old Alves.

"He has every chance of breaking the record," Maxwell tells GOAL. "Playing at PSG, he has a great team around him and the possibility to win many more trophies.

"Even now, with Dani in Barcelona, Messi has longer to go in his career. We never know how long Dani can go because he keeps pushing himself, but Messi is younger."

Maxwell, who is now UEFA's Head of Football Development, also explained that he was not in the least bit upset when Alves took his place in the record books.

"I was working at PSG [as sporting director] when Dani did it," he reveals. "We hugged each other and he said ‘I am sorry.’ I replied 'No, you deserve it and now you need to go further and further!'

"So, I was really happy that he did it."

Maxwell's humility helps explain why he was considered such an excellent team-mate, with Zlatan Ibrahimovic once describing him as both "a teddy bear" and "the best guy in the world".

Such sweet compliments may come as a surprise, given the Swede is more renowned for praising himself, albeit often with tongue planted firmly in cheek.

However, Ibrahimovic considers himself forever in debt to Maxwell, who gave him somewhere to sleep when he was just starting out at Ajax.

"He never stops talking to me about this situation even today," he says, laughing. "He mentioned that he was without money for some time and he needed some support.

"My house was there but I had only one room, so he had to stay on the floor. But Zlatan was a very humble person and didn’t mind.

“We were young, just 18 or 19 and completely alone in Amsterdam. He came from Sweden, I came from Brazil.

"I learned my English with and through him, so much so, in fact, that my daughter says I speak exactly like uncle Zlatan!"

These memories make Maxwell smile today, but he also uses them in his new role at UEFA to remind players that the life of an aspiring football is a long way removed from the glitz and glamour that comes with being a global superstar.

"I have been in the football world from five or six years of age," he says. "I lived insecure times in Brazil and the beginning in Holland.

"Not all players end up having elite careers. It is an uncertain period. Everyone has the dream, drive and ambition, but there is still no guarantee that you will succeed.

"I think it is a big responsibility for me and UEFA to show the players that they must get educated and prepare themselves in different ways for the future."

Maxwell, of course, was fortunate he made it to the top, and shared many of his best moments alongside his good friend Ibrahimovic.

Indeed, the pair played together at four different clubs, including PSG, whom they helped on their way to becoming one of the biggest clubs in the world.

Given the amount of titles he ended up winning, he could have easily just walked away from football, content with his lot.

However, Maxwell says he felt compelled to give something back to a game that treated him so well.

"I don't think it is enough to just retire as a 'former player' anymore; there's a life after football," he argues.

"Like me, elite former players can do the UEFA Executive Master for International Players (UEFA MIP). It opened my eyes to football giving a 360-degree view of the industry.

"We work for both boys and girls, promoting UEFA's values on inclusion. We work on elite youth development, grassroots football and the UEFA Youth League, which is now the most prestigious youth tournament.

"We've seen 800 players or so go into the Champions League, Europa League and Conference League.

"Mason Mount and Andreas Christensen at Chelsea have managed to win both the Youth League and Champions League. Munir El Haddidi has got the Youth League and Europa League titles.

"We analyse all UEFA competition matches so we know the trends in football and can continue to adapt our programmes as the game develops."

For Maxwell, then, his final trophy tally isn't that important to him. It doesn't matter how many players end up surpassing him.

"I really don’t care about these things," he adds. "I had my past and lived a great life in football. I knew players and had these great relationships with team-mates and what happened on the pitch was a blessing.

"I am not a guy who looks to be known or famous. The new generation can be famous now."