Not many things in sport speak higher about an athlete than receiving praise from opponents and rivals. And that’s something Brazilian national team opposite Wallace de Souza can certainly make a claim to.
The 33-year-old Wallace has been a starter and a key player for the South American nation for most of the last decade. In recent years, a true challenger for his starter status has emerged in the person of 2019 FIVB Volleyball World Cup Most Valuable Player Alan de Souza.
But, more than a competitor, Alan is actually a huge admirer.
“Wallace is my reference,” the 26-year-old Alan said. “He’s my idol and I’ve told him that. When I first started playing, he was already with the national team and was the guy I looked up to. I’ve been fortunate to play with him at Sada Cruzeiro and there I got to see how dedicated and competitive he is. To me, he’s the best player in the world.”
There’s certainly no shortage of reasons why Alan would develop that kind of feeling about Wallace. In the three years in which they were teammates at Sada Cruzeiro, Alan saw firsthand how his idol guided the team to three victories in the Brazilian Superliga, two at the FIVB Volleyball Men’s Club World Championship, and more honours in the South American Championship and Brazilian Cup.
A member of the Brazilian squad since 2010, Wallace won an Olympic medal at the Rio 2016 Games and silver four years before that, in London. He also helped the South Americans lift trophies in the FIVB Volleyball World League (2010), the Pan-American Games (2011), the FIVB Volleyball World Grand Champions Cup (2013 and 2017) and back-to-back silver medals at the 2014 and 2018 FIVB Volleyball Men's World Championships.
Of all those victories, the Brazilian triumph at the Rio 2016 Games was easily Wallace’s most memorable moment. The opposite, who also played in the gold medal match at the London Olympics four years earlier, when the team took silver, felt their victory at the Maracanazinho arena was a reward for a team that remained among the elite of the sport for several years.
“I kept asking myself what we were missing to take gold in several tournaments,” he reflected. “But one thing I noticed was that the teams around us on the podiums would always change, but never us. So, we weren’t that far off. I was hoping our victory would come when it mattered the most and when we won the Olympics in Rio, it was an crazy feeling. It was a mix of being on top of the world and feeling that our missions had been accomplished.”
Wallace might have a feeling of mission accomplished, but the truth is that the Brazilian national team don't think his mission is over just yet. The opposite, who received the award for that position at the Rio 2016 Olympics, and at three editions of the FIVB World League, will be a key member of the South American team as they heads into the Tokyo Games in 2021.
After that, however, nothing is certain. And it might be time for Wallace to be replaced by one of his greatest fans.
“I know it’s a cliché, but making it into the national team is not nearly as difficult as playing in it for so long,” he said. “As I get older, my physical condition is not the same, but I learned how to play smarter and more efficiently. But I see a great generation of young opposites coming up in Brazil and it might be time for them to take over. I look at Alan and I see myself when I was first called up, so I’m sure he’s got what it takes to carry the torch.”
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