A few days into lockdown I like many decided to substitute the lack of live football games on earth at the time with re-runs of classic matches, clips of great players and reminiscing special moments along with filling out those ‘best ever XI’ team line-ups that people kept sending around various social media channels.
One of them was to pick eleven players from eleven different European nations and make the best XI you possibly could out of the players you’ve seen play.
It was easy to start with… Zidane of France in Midfield… Maldini for Italy left side of defence… I went with Beckenbauer for the German entrant as sweeper, Schmeichel in goal from Denmark, Moore was my choice at centre half from England, Cruyff of Holland playing wherever he wanted across the middle of the park, Ronaldo of Portugal on one side of the attack, Northern Ireland’s George Best on the other supplying Zlatan of Sweden who got the nod over Lewandowski of Poland up top. My only dilemma was to go Xavi or Iniesta for the Spanish entrant… But after that I simply couldn’t find a right back.
I thought about benching Ibrahimovic for Roger Nilsson but couldn’t justify it, sticking Romania’s Dan Petrescu in but thinking back “was he ‘really’ that good?” I ended up panicking and putting Andy Robertson into the team last minute in who I knew was a left back… I simply couldn’t wait any longer, pressing send was like scoring an own goal… “What have I done”… I had ruined all my hard work.
In hindsight, I could have gone with someone solid like Stephane Liechsteiner of Switzerland or how about Eric Gerets at Belgium? Perhaps one from a time beyond in Revaz Dzodzuashvili of the old USSR? But one guy I was thinking of adding all the while, simply because he could do a job ‘anywhere’ on the park was Austria’s David Alaba.
Now I have seen David Alaba play at right back for his club side Bayern Munich. But I’ve seen him play left back more, which is why I perhaps didn’t give him the nod. But I’ve also seen him play in the centre of midfield anchoring. For his nation Austria I’ve seen him play as a winger, a wing back and a Makelele, I have even seen him play as a no10 influencing the game with every touch in the final third. Alaba is that good, he can simply play anywhere… A modern-day Stevie Nicol but better.
Whilst Alaba didn’t get my nod in the end, it got me thinking about my own regards for this fine player… Talking him up with some of the best players who have ever lived? Alongside Maldini, Zidane, Beckenbauer, Cruyff… I questioned myself “should he ‘really’ be included in an all time greatest XI???” He would certainly have been a better shout than Andy Robertson.
Alaba was once described by none other than Louis Van Gaal as ‘the best left back in the world’ whilst on loan at Hoffenheim in 2010. Even Pep Guardiola, who coached Alaba for three seasons between 2013-16 stated “He’s an unbelievable talent” furthering “without doubt he can be one of the best centre backs in the world” at a time when Alaba would ‘do a job’ for the Spaniard ‘wherever’ he played him. High praise from people who know what they’re talking about, a player referenced as world class in more than one position by world class coaches who have worked with some of the best footballers who’ve ever lived. Maybe this guy’s not such a bad player after all?
The versatile Vienna born star was Austrian Footballer of the Year for six years running between 2011 and 2016. When you think of the likes of Toni Polster (twice winner), Andy Herzog (winning only once), Gerhard Rodax (once again) and Ivica Vastic (four times), previous winners with International quality, the Austrians have never had a bad side, although darker days followed the 1998 World Cup up until the 2008 Euros now they are more than competitive and key to that is Alaba who is fastly becoming the best Austrian footballer to have ever lived… And when you think of a chap called Hans Krankl… You know he’s in good company.
Yet Alaba has surpassed even Krankl a five time Austrian Footballer of the Year and one with eight major trophies to his name. Alaba himself has eight German titles (soon to be nine), four German cup winners medals a Champions League and FIFA World Club Cup aged still only 27, an age when apparently he should now be in his prime.
And that prime condition has lead recent Bayern boss Hans Flick to trust Alaba at centre half where he played so well in keeping Borussia Dortmund’s star studded attack (Haaland, Sancho, Hazard etc) quiet in last weeks 1-0 win at the Westfalenstadion.
Flick stated “He takes the initiative, takes charge. You can hear him talking to the players. As a coach, I want to see and hear my players do that – to coach their teammates. He’s just a very intelligent player, and his development as a centre-back has been phenomenal. He ticks all the boxes as a central defender.”
Just under 6ft and standing at 1m80cm tall David Alaba might not have the height of a traditional centre half but in reading the game, in ordering others on what to do and where to go, in speed and awareness and in quality on the ball, no matter where he plays he can become one of the highest regarded footballers of his generation and in only time we may talk just how good a footballer he actually has been.