Xavi was recently asked by German weekly Stern why Pep Guardiola had made a wise choice in taking over at Bayern Munich. The celebrated Spain midfielder gave an intriguing answer: "Muller, Lahm and Schweinsteiger are German through and through, full of power but also skilled on the ball. And then you have Ribery and Robben, Mandzukic, Javi Martinez and Alaba. Alaba is excellent!”
So Xavi’s response was to matter-of-factly reel off a list of established star names, but reserve a special mention and declaration of praise for an up-and-coming 21-year-old Austrian.
David Alaba, the Vienna born-and-bred son of a Philippine mother and a Nigerian father, first started attracting admiring glances from across Europe two years ago, as seasoned watchers of the scene spotted a potential great in the making. For Bayern, Alaba operates as an attack-minded, quick, technically able and tactically sophisticated left-back, and a perfect foil for freshly-crowned European Footballer of the Year Franck Ribery. With his national team, he is a crucial catalyst as the Austrians strive to move up a grade in the global footballing hierarchy.
Friday evening brings another momentous occasion for the talented young player. In European Zone qualifying Group C for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™, second-placed Austria, on 11 points, meet leaders Germany, on 16.
For Alaba, it is a clash against the mighty next-door neighbours, in the country which he has chosen to make his home. And to cap it all, the game takes place in Munich, where he has lived for the last five years. The player will suddenly be a stranger in his own backyard, but sure enough, he assessed the whole situation in typical level-headed fashion.
“When you enter [the Munich Arena], you turn right for the Bayern dressing room and left for the other dressing rooms," Alaba explained, before adding with a trademark cheeky grin: “And I've never been there before!"
There is no doubting the player’s composure and quiet confidence prior to the showdown with a clutch of fellow Bayern stars, including Manuel Neuer, Philipp Lahm and Thomas Muller. However, even though Alaba must have proverbially covered every blade of grass down the flanks in Munich, he will feature in different areas of the field on Friday, as the 2011 and 2012 Austrian Player of the Year operates at the heart of midfield for his country.
On this occasion, he will not go head-to-head with Bastian Schweinsteiger, as the seasoned midfielder is sidelined with injury, but Alaba’s eyes shone with almost childlike enthusiasm when he previewed the big clash. “We want to make life as hard as possible for the Germans," he declared.
The visitors are not exactly unaccustomed to Munich, as no fewer than ten of Marcel Koller's squad play in Germany. “We're going there looking to come away with a result," Alaba remarked. "We have no need to be scared."
The Alpine nation have reached the FIFA World Cup seven times, but their most recent tilt at the greatest footballing prize of them all came 16 years ago. Alaba and Co know it is high time to correct that state of affairs, and the prospect is real this time, as they head the chasing pack behind favourites Germany in Group C, level on points with Sweden and Republic of Ireland but with a better goal difference. A draw in Munich could yet be worth its weight in gold, and the current Austrian generation certainly has the potential to spring a surprise on Friday.
“We're definitely heading in the right direction with the national team, as you can see from the current World Cup qualifying campaign," Alaba declared when he spoke to FIFA.com. The man capped 26 times by his country has every reason for proud enthusiasm, as Koller has assembled a team packed with creative and dynamic young players.
The reverse fixture in Vienna ended 2-1 to the Germans, but it could easily have finished in a draw or even a home win, as the nation currently lying 55th on the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking continue to close the gap to the elite.
As an individual, Alaba has already arrived at the top table. He is the first Austrian ever to collect a UEFA Champions League winner’s medal, and his record emphatically shows just how important he has become in the pursuit of a ticket to Brazil: Alaba has scored in four of the five qualifiers to date, dictating the pace of games by controlling the transitions between defence and attack, and arousing sympathy and passion among the adoring fans.
“Because of his ability to fill such a variety of positions at a consistently high level, you have to say David isn't normal," Koller acknowledged in an interview with German-language sports portal Spox. “It goes to show what an outstanding tactical training he's had. His ability to adapt and his footballing intelligence are astounding."
The youngster cannot fail to be boosted by such effusive praise from his own national coach. And how loud would be the chorus of praise if he actually does lead Austria to a famous victory in Munich and a place at the global showdown in Brazil?