WHILE Bayern Munich is trying to forget a disappointing season in which the league championship title was all it had to show for its efforts, left back David Alaba is expecting his club’s China tour this summer.
The 24-year-old international looks forward to visiting China again as he is still amazed by the fans’ warm welcome two years ago. “I’ve rarely experienced such enthusiasm for football,” he said.
Alaba said he desires to learn about foreign cultures and said China is very special as it is not another European neighbor but a faraway nation with a long history. “I love to experience more of the Chinese culture and daily life. I’d also like to meet our fans there and to get to know them better,” emphasized Alaba, who was born in the Austrian capital Vienna.
The size of places like Beijing and Shanghai also amazes him every time he goes there. “Feeling such a great support after a long flight to another continent thrills me every time. Beijing is so different to Munich. There’s always so much happening and it seems to be a city that never sleeps.”
And there is the cuisine which is “so much different to what I’m used to in Europe.” As his mother has Philippine roots, Alaba has a special fondness for Asian food. It is a vital part of his life. “I’m one of the biggest fans of Asian cuisine,” said Alaba whose father comes from Nigeria.
Bayern Munich will travel to China in July and play two games in Shanghai and Shenzhen on July 19 and 22 against the Premier League’s Arsenal and Italian club AC Milan.
For Alaba, the German Bundesliga has helped develop Austrian football as the international experience is essential for players. He assumes it would also help Chinese footballers to get acquainted with other nation’s football styles if they are to develop into top class players.
The effort Austria has made in its coaching system in recent years is beginning to pay off. “I was taught all the basics back home in Austria,” he said. It stood him in good stead when he joined Bayern at the age of 16.
Alaba is one of the last of the club’s players to have worked their way up through the youth teams. The defender and midfielder was promoted to the senior squad in 2010 and made his first appearance in the Bundesliga.
It has been a long hard road for Austrian football. The country’s footballers have now become a vital part of team in the various European leagues. Most of them are regulars in their clubs which is proof of their increasing quality. A quality Alaba is hoping to improve further still with his coaching and playing videos.
Austria is better known around the world as a leading winter sports nation, especially in Alpine skiing. Football is becoming more popular and the national team is gaining more and more fans. Some years ago, footballers rarely appeared on the list of contenders for the Sportsman of the Year award.
Alaba has managed to break down the wall as he was voted Austria’s top sportsman in both 2013 and 2014. This, the Bayern defender said, recognizes the work of everybody involved in the game in the country and shows that football is now attracting the attention of millions of fans, many of which had only previously followed winter sports. The national team was awarded Team of the Year in 2015.
He would not be surprised if something similar happened in China where table tennis, gymnastics and basketball are the main sports. Football he felt is going to catch up and gain in popularity. He, however, likes to have a close relationship with his country’s winter sport athletes as both sides would benefit from the collaboration and get a different perspective. Marcel Hirscher, one of Austria’s top Alpine skiers, is one of his closest friends.
Like Chinese people, Austrians are very fond of their home country. Like most Austrians, he loves being in the mountains which are only a short drive away. So much so that he always spends some of his vacation in his home country. No matter where life takes him, he will never forget his Austrian roots.
Despite his love for Austria, he said, “I like to walk around the streets in the US. It’s nice because nobody recognizes me and I can have my peace and quiet.”
Like many others, he is a great basketball and American Football fan. He also has friends in the NFL and has met many NBA stars.
Like most professional footballers, Alaba loves to talk about his dream team, always a hotly debated topic amongst fans. The Bayern defender said he is curious to find out about fans’ reactions to his selections.
Alaba’s best-ever goalkeeper is his teammate Manuel Neuer. He is convinced the German international will never be overtaken by anybody else between the posts.
His defense is made up of Philipp Lahm (left), Jerome Boateng (both Bayern Munich), Sergio Ramos and Roberto Carlos (both Real Madrid). He has never seen Lahm have a bad game and he is impressed by Boateng’s ability to open up the game and his two-footedness. Ramos is a leader who can drive a team forward while Carlos impressed him with a marvelous left foot.
In midfield, Alaba favors Bayern Munich’s Franck Ribery on the left next to Frenchman Patrick Vieira and Nigerian Jay-Jay Okocha, who played for Eintracht Frankfurt, Paris St. Germain, Hull City and Bolton Wanderers. He would also pick the Brazilian superstar Ronaldinho. Ribery is world class on and off the pitch while Vieira was his role model when he was a kid. Ronaldinho, Alaba says, was loved by everybody for his outstanding quality. And Okocha was a simply a football artist.
Up front, he would select the superstars of Real Madrid and Barcelona. Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi are simply the best when it comes to attacking and goal-scoring. Both, Alaba said, can win games on their own and almost guarantee titles for the teams they play for.