Alaba: Music motivates me
In many ways, the life of a diamond is very similar to that of a modern footballer. Once discovered, the raw stone is polished to increase its aesthetic and commercial value, rather like the many aspiring youngsters across the globe, a handful of whom are spotted by scouts and eventually moulded into professionals. Austria's record caps holder Andreas Herzog recently identified one such jewel in 19-year-old David Alaba: "He's a real gem, a god-send, the most talented young Austrian player of them all!"
In an exclusive interview with FIFA.com, the Bayern Munich youth graduate revealed his pride at receiving such high praise, but also insisted his development is far from complete. "My family and friends support me and help keep my feet on the ground," said the left-footer. "Of course it's nice to receive such a compliment from Andreas Herzog, but I'm a long way off being a jewel. I can still learn a lot and I have to keep on improving."
Alaba's modesty is no coincidence. Brought up by his Filipino mother and Nigerian father in Vienna, he has first-hand experience of the hardship his parents went through prior to their emigration to Europe. "I've been to the Philippines twice and also to my father's homeland," said the midfielder. "The difference between Nigeria and my life in Austria and Germany is notorious. It was only when I visited these places that I realised how good I've got it. I'm very thankful."
Austria Vienna enabled Alaba to take his first steps on the football ladder, promoting him to the first team at just 15. The player's performances did not go unnoticed, and in the summer of 2008 German giants Bayern Munich enticed him across the border.
"It was always my dream to play for Bayern," he said. "My family have always supported me, so even at 16 it wasn't hard to leave home. The club also made it very easy for me."
It was a step the Austrian would not regret. After playing his way through the club's youth ranks, the likeable all-rounder eventually earned himself a regular starting spot in the reserves before making the transition to the first team in February 2010. At just 17, his appearances in the DFB-Pokal, the Bundesliga and the UEFA Champions League made him the youngest-ever player to represent the club in all three competitions. Half a year earlier, Alaba had already claimed his first record as the youngest-ever debutant for the senior Austria team, aged just 17 years and 112 days.
"My records are an honour, but I prefer to look to the future," he said. "I want to achieve a lot more and I have some big aspirations. My development has been great and I've taken another major step forward over the past few months. Now I'm looking forward to my next challenge."
In order to continue his development, stock up on positive energy and give himself the best possible chance of achieving his many goals, Alaba dedicates every spare minute to his other passion in life: music. Rather than the diamond-studded earrings some of his contemporaries opt for, the Bayern youngster is far more likely to been seen wearing his headphones. A quick internet search for 'David Alaba' online reveals the Austrian is also a keen singer.
"Music plays a very important role in my life," he explained. "Before matches I always try to get in the mood by listening to music that motivates me. After a game it depends on the result. If we lose, I like to switch off and listen to relaxing music, so that I can think about what happened. If we win, I like a bit of Usher."
Alaba's behind-the-wheel rendition of Justin Bieber's 'Baby' has attracted almost 80,000 hits and was recorded by Ryan Babel, a former team-mate at Hoffenheim, where the Austrian midfielder spent the second half of last season on loan. His performances in Sinsheim were sufficiently impressive for new Bayern coach Jupp Heynckes to insist upon the youngster's immediate return.
"David has a lot of ability and a great future," said the veteran tactician, explaining that Alaba was now a firm part of his first-team plans. The 19-year-old appears to have taken on the challenge, despite only starting Bayern's first few games of the season as a substitute. Even so, Heynckes is renowned for his ability to make all his players feel involved: "Perhaps David isn't a back-up option any more. Maybe he's a starter."
Focus on EURO 2012
Alaba is already an established player for Austria, who are currently in the middle of qualifying for UEFA EURO 2012. Dietmar Constantini's side occupy fourth place in Group A and remain in with a chance of a play-off berth.
"We've got a very good, young team which is hungry for success," said Alaba. "We've been unfortunate recently and our performances haven't always been the best, but we're focusing on the task in hand and concentrating fully on our upcoming matches."
Though he is yet to decide what he will do once his playing days are over, Alaba revealed he "thoroughly enjoyed" helping to coach the Bayern U-11 team a couple of years ago. Maybe one day he himself will be the one shaping rough diamonds into the jewels of the future.