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Dublin: 4°C Monday 19 April 2021

Can one of the world's best footballers silence the Aviva again?

David Alaba will be hoping to inspire his side against Ireland, having made the difference in previous games.

David Alaba will be hoping to inspire Austria to victory against Ireland tonight.
David Alaba will be hoping to inspire Austria to victory against Ireland tonight.
Image: DPA/PA Images

REMEMBER THAT PLAYER who picked up a booking in the Champions League semi-final that meant he would miss the final?

But instead of wallowing in self-pity and growing more frustrated, he selflessly drove his team to victory, securing the man-of-the-match award amid an inspirational showing of self-discipline.

No, Roy Keane is not the only one to have done that.

In fact, the footballer referred to above is David Alaba. And while Keane was close to his footballing prime when he inspired Man United to a famous won over Juventus in 1999, Alaba was just 19 when he helped Bayern Munich progress at Real Madrid’s expense in the 2012 semi, even calmly slotting home a penalty in the shootout.

Yet even that feat was hardly a surprise, given how much Alaba had achieved by then. He joined Austria Vienna at the age of 10 and made their first-team squad by the time he was 15. After turning 17, he became both Austria’s youngest international ever and the youngest player to feature for Bayern Munich in a competitive game.

Moreover, it’s incredible to think Alaba is still only 24. Of the current Ireland squad, only Callum O’Dowda, Cyrus Christie and Daryl Horgan are younger than him, the latter two by mere months.

In a relatively short space of time, Alaba has won the Champions League, starring in Bayern’s 2013 win over Dortmund, as well as picking up six Bundesliga titles and four DFB-Pokal trophies.

The star, who is the son of a Nigerian DJ father and a mother from the Phillipines, has already played 55 times for Austria — more than many veterans manage at international level — scoring 11 goals in the process.

And two of those goals, of course, came against Ireland. The two strikes in question each served as a bitter blow to then-Republic manager Giovanni Trapattoni.

Source: Goal News & Highlights/YouTube

One was a last-minute goal that denied Ireland a vital win at the Aviva Stadium, while another was a winner in Vienna that effectively ended the Boys in Green’s hopes of qualification for the 2014 World Cup and prompted Trapattoni’s subsequent departure.

Source: FC Bayern München/YouTube

Alaba, however, was uncharacteristically off form when Ireland earned a 1-0 win at the Ernst-Happel-Stadion in the sides’ most recent meeting last November, struggling to have any real impact on the game as Austria were deservedly beaten on the night.

Yet the Vienna native is unquestionably a player of immense talent — in 2015, The Guardian ranked him as the 23rd best player in the world. He has been Austrian Footballer of the Year five times on the trot. This season, as usual, he was an integral player for Bayern, featuring 47 times in all competitions.

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Despite being named the world’s best left-back by ESPN last year, he actually started off as a midfielder — and usually still plays there for Austria — dreaming of emulating his idols, Cesc Fabregas and Patrick Vieira.

It was Louis van Gaal who originally converted him into a formidable full-back, though Alaba has played in an array of positions invariably with great success, including centre-back, central midfield and both wings. He is consequently the archetypal modern player — supremely athletic, hard-working and capable of operating virtually anywhere on the pitch.

Unsurprisingly, Pep Guardiola was a big fan of Alaba during his stint at Bayern, calling him “a future all-time best in the club’s history” and adding: “He’s just incredible, he’s just… wow.”

Source: Home of Football/YouTube

As the numerous YouTube videos dedicated to Alaba attest, his pace, strength on the ball and lethal left foot are among the player’s biggest assets. While at club level, he is normally flying down the touchline, in international football, he is similarly at home dictating play and attempting to pick out killer passes.

Yet perhaps his most impressive and important quality is his tendency to seem so calm and unaffected by the hype perpetually surrounding him. Indeed, for someone who has been justifiably hailed as a prodigy for a long time now, a good temperament would have been mandatory for his long-term survival in the game.

As a Guardian profile last year noted: “It is fair to say Alaba wears his new‑found importance very lightly. As he ambles into the small interview room at Munich’s Säbener Strasse in a plain black T-shirt and trainers, Alaba is unassuming to the point of being shy, a little at odds with his reputation as a social-media prankster.”

And Ireland will likely need similarly cool heads if they are to keep Alaba at bay this evening — the Austrian superstar is one reason why Martin O’Neill may be tempted to stick with a classic defensive midfielder in Glenn Whelan despite some calls for the Stoke man’s exclusion from the side.

That said, it may be Cyrus Christie rather than Whelan who is ultimately left to carefully monitor Alaba, with some Austrian journalists suggesting the team’s star player could start on the left-wing rather than the central position he reverted to when the sides last met.

And he might be occupying the left-hand side in the Premier League next season too. Reports have indicated that Alaba is on Antonio Conte’s list of Chelsea targets for next season, with the player’s versatility seen as ideal for a Blues side that will have to use much more of their squad compared with the 2016-17 campaign.

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About the author:

Paul Fennessy

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