Summary

  • David Alaba has already won 14 titles.
  • He was voted Austria's sports personality of 2013 and 2014.
  • Elected Austria's best footballer each year since 2011.

One of the biggest signs of a true champion is not so much the long lists of triumphs, achievements and accolades, but how they are also able to deal with setbacks and defeats.

Granted, there are not that many of the latter for a winner to deal with, but for FC Bayern München and Austria defender David Alaba, one occurred in the build-up to UEFA EURO 2016. The way he responded exemplified why the 23-year-old is already well on his way to that true champion status and the standout member of Austria's large Bundesliga contingent.

"We wanted to play the ball out from the back and I wanted to turn, then I saw two opponents bearing down on me," Alaba explained of an incident in the 87th minute of Austria's 2-1 win over Malta in an international friendly when he would have liked the earth to open up and swallow him up. "I thought Ramazan Özcan was stood in our goal."

Unfortunately for Alaba, he was not. FC Ingolstadt 04 'keeper Özcan had moved just to the side of his post, but it was already too late as Alaba stroked the ball into his own, unguarded goal. "It's disappointing, but I accept the total responsibility," added Austria's most famous sportsman, who later tweeted to his followers to forgive him that aberration.

Just a glance at his career statistics confirm that the downs are most certainly outweighed by the ups. Five Bundesliga titles, four DFB Cups, one UEFA Champions League, one FIFA Club World Cup, two German Supercups and two UEFA Super Cups already adorn his trophy cabinet: 14 trophies at the age of 23.

Alaba is Bayern's youngest debutant in the Bundesliga and Champions League.

Voted Austria's footballer of the year annually since 2011, and named his country's number one sportsperson in both 2013 and 2014, forgiveness is granted for that rare, minor mistake, which came as it did in a friendly. Only his humility took a hit.

A far greater near-mistake earlier in Alaba's life could have been far more consequential. When he was just ten years old, his mother took a telephone call from the youth academy of Austria Vienna. At the time, the club was named after its sponsor Memphis - a manufacturer of cigarettes. "When my mum took the call, she almost wanted to put the phone down on them," Alaba explained to Austrian television. "She thought they wanted to sell her cigarettes."

Alaba's route to joining Bayern was riddled with hurdles.

That was not the only near-miss which threatened to end Alaba's career before it began. After his mother accepted the invitation for a trial, the family set off in their Ford Escort only for a breakdown to leave them stranded. They called a taxi, who rushed them to the training ground, arriving just in time.

The rest, as they say, is history. Alaba moved to Bayern in 2008 and, two years later, he was making his Bundesliga debut against 1. FC Köln. Just three days later, he was taking his UEFA Champions League bow against ACF Fiorentina, in Bayern's starting XI. That made him Bayern's youngest-ever debutant in both those competitions, just a matter of days apart.

Alaba has received plenty of praise for his performances for Bayern.

After a successful loan spell at TSG 1899 Hoffenheim, where he was a regular in the second half of the 2010/11 season, he returned to Munich matured and ready to hold down a regular berth in their team. He has now made 152 Bundesliga appearances.

"Alaba is our God," said outgoing Bayern coach Pep Guardiola. "He's an extraordinary footballer. It's an honour to work with him on a daily basis." It is equally an honour and a pleasure for those around the Bavarian club to see him in action. "He's got everything that a world class footballer needs," said Bayern's CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge. "He's got huge talent, passion, the ambition to get even better and an incredible amount of experience for somebody of his age."

He was also "the guarantee for Austria to reach their first major finals in years," according to Rummenigge, and the Alpine republic can now look forward to the coming weeks in which they can enjoy and admire Alaba as he tries to inspire them to similar success he has celebrated on club level.

"It's the first time for most of us to be in such a big tournament and while we're not likely to be high up on many people's tip lists, I think we can do really well," Alaba said. Just as long as he can avoid mistakes such as the one in the 87th minute against Malta, although his true champion reaction suggests not even that could stand between Alaba and more joy this summer.