Austria have snuck under the radar to make it to only their second ever European Championship. they do however have a host of reasons to be optimistic.
One reason is David Alaba, the versatile, defender come midfielder. The Panenka looks at the Bayern Munich man’s career while assessing Austria’s chances at Euro 2016 in France this summer.
David Olatukunbo Alaba, the offspring of a Nigerian father and a Filipino mother, has enjoyed a fast track journey to becoming the poster boy for an Austrian national team and being recognized as one of the unsung talents of the Bayern Munich side that has once again lifted the German Bundesliga title.
Raised in Vienna, Alaba joined Bayern Munich’s youth academy just after turning 16. He started out in Bayern’s youth system playing for the U-17 and U-19 teams before being promoted to the reserve team (Bayern Munich II) for the 2009–10 season. That season he made his professional debut and made such an impression that he was promoted to the senior squad the following year under Louis van Gaal.
Alaba started his career as a midfielder, where he plays for Austria, but had previously been converted to left-back by Louis van Gaal during his time as Bayern boss in 2010. After another manger change, the Austrian’s durability was put tot he test again where he frequently featured as an assured center-back under Guardiola . “He’s just incredible, he’s just…wow. He can play absolutely everywhere,” said Guardiola, who will take over at Manchester City next season.
The Spanish coach was expected to make a concerted effort to bring Alaba to Manchester after Euro 2016 but had his hopes dashed by news that Alaba had his Bayern contract extended until 2021, news that was also met with dismay by Barcelona.
As a youngster, the numerous countries Alaba was eligible to represent sought after his talent on the international scene. Eventually though, Nigeria, the Philippines and Germany were all turned down as he opted to represent the country of his birth, Austria. After representing his country at numerous youth levels he was thrust into the Austrian national team aged just 17 years and 112 days to become the youngest player to represent the country.
In 2011 Alaba scooped the Austrian footballer of the year award as the youngest-ever recipient of the prize and has gone on to win it for five straight years. Recognition of his ability has stretched around Europe as well. In both 2013 and 2014, Alaba was named to UEFA’s Team of the Year, the second of which was deserved appreciation for his contribution to Die Roten’s treble winning season.
Quick under foot as well as in mind, versatile and deadly from set-pieces, the 23-year-old is undisputedly the star of an Austrian side that has sprung to prominence in the last few years. A poor European history did not stop Austria from qualifying for their second ever European Championship next summer in France. Austria strolled to automatic qualification undefeated by winning group G with 28 points, including 9 wins and one draw.
Austria coach Marcel Koller, said, “”We rely on the proven team,” after revealing his provisional squad for Euro 2016. The national team is likely to include only two players from Austrian clubs, Austria Vienna goalkeeper Robert Almer and Salzburg midfielder Valentino Lazaro, while Bayern Munich’s David Alaba is among 16 players based in Germany.
Koller’s belief that his side is made up of proven top-level professionals is not mere optimism. With players from all across the Bundesliga, Switzerland and Ukraine, two players from the English Premier league are likely to be important to their chances at Euro 2016.
Marko Arnautovic of Stoke is one. He scored 11 league goals last season for the resurgent Potters under Mark Hughes, form that made him the club’s top scorer is likely to earn him a new bumper contact. Also, Christian Fuchs is likely to feature in Austria’s full back slot; he is fresh from defying all odds and winning the English Premier League with Leicester City.
The Euro 2016 group handed to Austria was relatively kind. They avoided some of the heavyweights of the tournament like Germany, France and Spain. Instead their greatest test will come against Portugal in Group F. Assuming they can beat the so-called smaller teams in the group, Hungary and Iceland, qualification to the knockouts should be achievable.
Speculatively, it may favor Austria to finish as runner-up in Group F as that would pit them against the runner-up in Group B, which could be any of England, Wales, Russia and Slovakia. Winning the group would see them play the runner-up of Group E, which could be any of Italy, Belgium, Republic of Ireland and Sweden.