He began and has spent most of his professional career at Porto, where he won a total of nine titles and appeared in 171 official games. He has also won trophies in Russia, with Zenit Saint Petersburg, and in Turkey, with Fenerbahçe.
A senior Portugal international since 2007, Alves has represented the country in two World Cups, three European Championships and one Confederations Cup, winning Euro 2016.
Alves was born in Póvoa de Varzim. He started playing football for local club Varzim, before joining the youth ranks of Porto at the age of 17. After three consecutive loans, two in Portugal and another in Greece with AEK Athens, he returned Porto in the 2005–06 season, extending his contract until 2010 and battling for a first-team spot with Ricardo Costa and João Paulo. He played in seven league games for the eventual Primeira Liga champions, but was infamously sent off on 15 October 2005 in a 2–0 home loss against Benfica, after headbutting Nuno Gomes.
The arrival of manager Jesualdo Ferreira in summer 2006 signalled the turning point in Alves' career. He beat off stiff competition for a starting berth in the team alongside Pepe and formed a solid partnership with the Brazilian-born centre-back. An impressive campaign saw the player finally come of age, and he was ever-present as the club won another national championship.
On 7 April 2009, Alves' early mistake in a UEFA Champions League quarter-final tie against Manchester United at Old Trafford led to Wayne Rooney's equaliser– the game ended 2–2 and Porto went on to lose 3–2 on aggregate. However, on 10 May, he headed in the game's only goal in a home win over Nacional, which ensured team and the player a fourth consecutive league accolade.
On 3 August 2010, aged 28, Alves signed with Russian Premier League side Zenit Saint Petersburg for €22 million, joining compatriots Danny and Fernando Meira in the squad. Upon his arrival, head coach Luciano Spalletti described him as a very important player for the team, noting his experience, ability in the air and strong character.
On 30 September 2010, Alves scored his first goal for his new club, against former team AEK Athens in the group stage of the UEFA Europa League.
On 5 June 2013, Alves agreed to join Turkey's Fenerbahçe on a three-year deal worth €2.5 million per season, for a transfer fee of €5.5 million. He scored twice in 25 league appearances in his first season in Istanbul, to help the side win the Süper Lig title, and also contested in their Turkish Super Cup win against Galatasaray on 25 August 2014.
On 18 October 2014, Alves was given a straight red card for kicking Blerim Džemaili, as his team eventually lost 2–1 to Galatasaray at the Türk Telekom Arena. He was sent off again on 25 May 2015, for conceding a penalty against another team from the city, İstanbul Başakşehir, being the second of four Fener players to be dismissed in a 2–2 draw which gave the title to Galatasaray.
On 5 June 2016, Alves signed a two-year contract with Cagliari, who had recently returned to the Italian Serie A. The deal was set to go through when he became a free agent at the end of the month. He made his debut on 15 August 2016, in a 5–1 home win over S.P.A.L. in the Coppa Italia, and scored his first goal on 11 September, which was a free-kick in a 2–1 league loss at Bologna.
On 31 May 2017, Alves signed for Rangers on a two-year deal for an undisclosed fee. He scored his first goal for his new team on 9 August, in a 6–0 routing of Dunfermline Athletic for the Scottish League Cup.
Alves played for Portugal at the 2004 Summer Olympics, with the country's participation ending after three games in Greece. Luiz Felipe Scolari gave him his full international debut in June 2007 against Kuwait in a 1–1 away draw, and he was then selected as a back-up for UEFA Euro 2008, appearing in the 0–2 group stage loss to Switzerland.
A regular starter during the 2010 FIFA World Cup qualifiers, Alves headed the winner in injury time for the final 2–1 win in Albania on 6 June 2009, as Portugal eventually reached the play-offs. There, in the first leg in Lisbon, he also found the net (the game's only goal) against Bosnia and Herzegovina, in an eventual 2–0 aggregate qualification; he also played all the matches and minutes in the finals in South Africa, in an eventual round-of-16 exit.
Alves played all the games and minutes at the Euro 2012 tournament, starring alongside former Porto teammate Pepe. In the semi-finals, against Spain, he missed his penalty shootout attempt, in an eventual 4–2 loss.
Ten days after being included in Paulo Bento's final 23-men squad for the 2014 World Cup, Alves scored a 93rd-minute winner in a 1–0 friendly win over Mexico for his tenth international goal, also featuring in the tournament opener against Germany, a 4–0 defeat. He also started in the following two contests in Brazil, in a group stage exit.
Alves was also selected for Euro 2016. In the penultimate warm-up game away to England on 2 June, he was sent off in the first half for a head-high tackle on Harry Kane; he only made his debut in the tournament in the semi-finals against Wales due to injury to Pepe, playing the full 90 minutes and being booked in a 2–0 win at the Parc Olympique Lyonnais.
In May 2017, Alves was picked for the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup squad.
Alves' older brother, Geraldo, is also a footballer, and a central defender. He has paternal Brazilian ancestry, his father Washington Geraldo Dias Alves having played ten years of his career in Portugal – mainly with Varzim – where his children were born.
The youngest sibling, Júlio, is also a footballer, in the midfielder position. Their uncle, Geraldo, also played the sport.As of match played 15 September 2017
As of match played 3 September 2017
Primeira Liga: 2005–06, 2006–07, 2007–08, 2008–09
Taça de Portugal: 2005–06, 2008–09, 2009–10
Supertaça Cândido de Oliveira: 2006, 2009
Taça da Liga: Runner-up 2009–10
Russian Premier League: 2010, 2011–12
Russian Super Cup: 2011
Süper Lig: 2013–14
Turkish Super Cup: 2014
Toulon Tournament: 2001
UEFA European Championship: 2016
FIFA Confederations Cup: Third place 2017
Primeira Liga Player of the Year: 2009
Commander of the Order of Merit