All-round Alaba helps Austria take flight

Vienna (AFP) – Born to a Nigerian father and a Filipino mother, David Alaba is an unlikely poster boy for an Austrian national team soaring unprecedented heights.

Raised in Vienna, Alaba left his hometown just after turning 16 to join Bayern Munich’s youth academy.

As a youngster he idolised Patrick Vieira and dreamed of playing for Arsenal, but Bayern’s persistence lured him to Germany where Alaba has blossomed into a world-class talent. Pep Guardiola has tipped him to become “a future all-time best in the club’s history.”

Quick, versatile and deadly from set-pieces, he is also the undisputed star of an Austrian side that had until recently spent years languishing in the international wilderness.

Alaba started his career as a midfielder but was converted to left-back by Louis van Gaal during his time as Bayern boss in 2010. He has also demonstrated his worth as a makeshift centre-back under Guardiola. 

“He’s just incredible, he’s just…wow. He can play absolutely everywhere,” purred Guardiola, who will take over at Manchester City next season and is expected to make a push to bring Alaba, who only recently extended his Bayern contract until 2021, to the Premier League alongside him.

The Austrian was quick to return the compliment, praising Guardiola for his progression. “He pushes everybody, every day, in a good way. Especially me. I’ve been getting better with every year he’s been here (at Bayern), because of him. 

“It’s like he reinvented football. He thinks about football 24 hours a day.” 

A precocious talent, Alaba was also eligible to represent Nigeria, the Philippines and Germany but was thrust into the Austrian national team aged just 17 years and 112 days to become the youngest player to represent the country.

He again sent records tumbling when he made his Bayern debut a few months later, laying on an assist for Franck Ribery with his first touch in a 6-2 victory German Cup victory over Greuther Fuerth.

He scooped the Austrian footballer of the year award in 2011 as the youngest-ever recipient of the prize and has gone on to win the award five straight years, with former Bayern manager Ottmar Hitzfeld describing Alaba “as a gift from the heavens”.

Recognition of his ability has stretched around Europe as well. Alaba was named to UEFA’s Team of the Year in 2013, Bayern’s historic treble-winning season, and 2014.

Far from a prolific scorer at club level, Alaba has proven much more of a threat for his country with 11 goals in 46 appearances, including four during Austria’s impressive Euro 2016 campaign in which they reeled off nine straight wins after opening with a 1-1 draw at home to Sweden.

His list of honours already makes for impressive reading having won the Bundesliga, German Cup, Champions League and Club World Cup during his time at Bayern, but Alaba is likely to find international success much harder to come by.

Not since the days of Toni Polster, the country’s record goalscorer from the 1980s and 1990s, have Austria fielded talent quite like Alaba. He will shoulder a growing weight of expectation in France, but he says it will not be a strain.

“I’m living my dream. Every morning I wake up and think to myself, cool, it doesn’t get better than this!” he said, with a successful summer in France likely to catapult Alaba to the next level.

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