Munich – With the recent signing of Juan Bernat from Valencia, FC Bayern München have undoubtedly strengthened their hand down the left flank. A knock-on question inevitably arising from the move, however, is that with the Spain Under-21 international having flourished at left-back in the Primera Division last season, where exactly will he fit in at Bayern, given David Alaba has made that very position his own in no uncertain manner?
Midfield to left-back...
While Bernat was initially trained up as an attacking midfielder and says he is equally comfortable in either capacity, Bayern are impressively covered on the left further up the pitch as well by a certain Franck Ribery. In fact, there is a distinct possibility that it is Alaba who may be getting a new angle on the game for the record champions in the course of the upcoming campaign - not least given director of sport Matthias Sammer's comment that Bernat's arrival also potentially “frees up David Alaba for other roles.”
It's by no means the first time the prospect has been mooted and in itself perhaps no great surprise in light of the fact that Alaba began his precocious professional career as a midfielder. The switch to the position in which he has spectacularly thrived came under Louis van Gaal who, having made the then-17-year-old the Munich club's youngest-ever Bundesliga debutant in March 2010, subsequently persuaded him that he was “a left-back, even if he doesn't think so himself.”
So it proved, to the extent that former Bayern and Germany pack leader Stefan Effenberg recently told Austria's SportWoche that for him, Alaba is right up there alongside past greats such as Roberto Carlos, Paolo Maldini and Andreas Brehme, adding, “his interplay with Ribery's sensational. I can't think of any left-back better than him at the moment.”
...and back again?
Why change a winning formula then? 1974 World Cup winner Paul Breitner, an FC Bayern legend who can easily take his place in the pantheon of all-time great left-backs, is not the only one convinced that Alaba has the potential to take on a more central playmaking role in Munich – a positional switch Breitner himself pioneered in the late 1970s. And with Toni Kroos freshly departed for Real Madrid, a vacancy has arisen in precisely that department of Pep Guardiola's team.
Only months into the job last year, the Catalan master tactician moved skipper and career defender Philipp Lahm from right-back to deep midfield, a stopgap measure which proved a stunning success. On the face of it, a similar reshuffle involving Alaba looks like even less of a risk, with the Vienna native ticking an awful lot of the right boxes for a top-drawer creative holding midfielder.
A most suitable candidate
An 88 percent pass accuracy rate last season underscores his assurance on the ball, not least given his freedom to roam towards the top end of the pitch. His speed and athleticism make him exceptionally strong one-on-one as well, a 57 percent win rate in 2013/14 precisely matching Lahm's overall career average. And having now gone 79 league outings without a single yellow card, Alaba clearly manages to do the job by fair means rather than foul. Throw in the cool head and superb technique of a set-piece specialist and you have more than enough potential for Guardiola, and Bayern's many fans, to be licking their collective lips.
The head coach knows exactly what he has in Austria's “talent of the century,” describing him at a press conference last season as “an incredible, fearless player. He's very disciplined and always thinks in terms of the team, rather than himself. In David Alaba, FC Bayern have a real gem for years to come. An excellent player and an excellent guy.” Responding to that fulsome praise in an interview on the club website, Alaba noted in turn that already in the first few months of Guardiola's tenure, “I've learned an incredible amount. I just soak up everything he says and in that regard, I think I'm talking for my team-mates as well.” He has the attitude and he has the ability – and very shortly, David Alaba might get the opportunity as well to move centre-stage at FC Bayern.