22 Defender Bayern Munich Austria
2014 has been…
An ordinary year for an extraordinary player. Having been awarded the highest possible grade in this assessment a year ago, Alaba simply carried on where he left off. His early excellence as a converted left back has perhaps transformed into a more versatile range of deployments for club and country, where he holds down a midfield spot for Austria.
Alaba is a fantastic player in an all-conquering club team. In 2013 he played a big role in Jupp Heynckes trophy-laden FC Bayern bow, cementing his reputation as one of Europe’s finest prospects. He seldom strayed into the spectacular, but he became a fully functioning facet of the best team in the world and barely seemed to break a sweat.
2014 has probably fallen short of the expectations of Pep Guardiola, Heynckes’ replacement in the dugout at the Allianz. Alaba’s still there, still getting up and down the pitch for fun and still interacting seamlessly with some of the very best players on the planet.
He’s matured nicely in the last year and it’s only Bayern’s predictable league progress, and conversely their inability to reproduce their Champions League success, that mean he’s not really been in the spotlight to the same extent globally. Most importantly, though, it’s just assumed that he’ll be quietly excellent.
Alaba isn’t far off being the finished article even at 22. He’s fast, strong and skilful. He’s efficient in possession, tends towards good decisions and is generally a very intelligent, very effective all-rounder. He’s as much an attacker as a defender almost regardless of whether he’s playing at the back (a more frequent occurrence after the acquisition of Juan Bernat and an apparent source of frustration for Alaba), wide on the left or in midfield. It’s not as if Bayern are especially rigid in terms of player positions and Alaba is tailor-made for a system like that.
We mentioned earlier that he doesn’t often opt for the spectacular, and in truth he should do more often. He has scored a few stunning goals in his career already, not least in the Champions League, and he’s got a phenomenal shot in his armoury that could be deployed more often.
A slight aversion to risk might be what makes Alaba the player he is, but taking a few more risks would put him in the headlines more often. His dead ball game is developing a reputation of its own. Alaba is an enthusiastic student of free kicks, fascinated by David Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo. More free kick goals undoubtedly will follow.
Of all the players on this year’s list, Alaba faces perhaps the biggest challenge. He’s already achieved more than anyone else, leaving him with little opportunity to take a significant upwards step. In club football, his career should be a successful journey from title to title, and he’s already won everything he could have dreamed of winning.
But it’s in international football that he can elevate himself to the highest possible status. Austria have had a handful of top class players over the years, and Alaba’s home town, Vienna, was once been at the heart of a new culture of footballing and tactical thinking, but they’ve never been in much of a position to trouble the big boys.
Alaba is going to be a high profile player at big clubs for the next decade and he spearheads Austria’s hopes. His country has played in the European Championships just once, as hosts. The expanded format for the finals in 2016 represents perhaps their best ever chance to qualify.
They share a perilous group with Russia, Montenegro and Sweden, but they started well. With Alaba, Martin Hinteregger of Red Bull Salzburg and Rapid Wien’s uncapped teenager Louis Schaub all featuring in this list, Marcel Koller’s team might even be able to set the tone for a more satisfactory period. First, they’ll need Alaba back from the knee ligament injury sustained on Champions League duty in November.
"Maybe the most complete player in the world now, has taken his game to even greater heights in Guardiola's new system this season." - Cristian Nyari
"Manuel Neuer (69) and Thomas Muller (66) are the only players to feature more under Pep Guardiola than David Alaba (65)." - OptaJoe
B Quietly brilliant but expectations could weigh heavy
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