Euro 2016 Spotlight:Austria

In one sense, David Alaba is a common type of player. He's a genuine superstar playing for a country that doesn't produce many of them. As Austria's once-in-a-generation talent who's good enough to play a key role on one of the world's best teams, he has a ton of pressure on his shoulders. While he'll be surrounded by 10 other capable professionals, his country needs him to be the star. At any given time, there are a half-dozen national teams in the world that are in this exact situation.

In any other sense, Alaba is unique. He's only 23 years old, but he's been a key contributor to a treble-winning team and two others that have captured a league/cup domestic double. This is his first major international tournament, but no one is qualifying expectations by saying that he's young, and we don't know how he'll perform. Alaba has been first-choice for Bayern Munich for five years, is unquestionably one of the earth's greatest players and should comfortably be Austria's best. But he'll be asked to do that in a role that he rarely plays.

During his time with Bayern Munich, Alaba has been a starter in six different positions: left wing, left back, attacking midfield, central midfield, traditional center back and box-to-box left center back/central midfield hybrid. The last position is one that Pep Guardiola made up. Ask a random Bundesliga or Champions League viewer what Alaba's best position is and they'll probably say left back. If you ask the man himself, he'll say central midfield.

And despite central midfield being a position where he's spent less time than he has on the left or at central defense, it is the place on the pitch where he'll start for Austria. While world-renowned for his pace, fitness and versatility, Alaba is generally not known for his possession skills and creativity. Those are the ones he's wanted so badly to show off since he was taken out of central midfield for Bayern by Jupp Heynckes, and the ones that his team will need him to display in France.

There are stakes beyond the Euros themselves for Alaba at this tournament — he wants to play central midfield full-time. He's previously threatened to leave Bayern in order to find a team that will let him play there. Between Juan Bernat's solid play at left back, Joshua Kimmisch's move to central defense and the arrival of a new manager, he might finally get the chance. But getting that chance starts with taking the opportunity he has with his national team to prove he has everything it takes to be one of the world's best central midfielders, not just a top left back or utility man.

Alaba will not have to drag Austria along by himself — there's a solid team around him, with players like him who are both young and experienced. Captain and Premier League winner Christian Fuchs is one of only three outfield players in his 30s. Alaba is one of seven players in the Austria team who have 40 or more caps, but are not yet 30 years old. Most of them are starters in the Bundesliga or Premier League. Austria has no shortage of solid role players to help get the most out of Alaba.

But ultimately, as solid as the team is, there is only one true superstar. Alaba stands a level above his peers, and he's going to be put into arguably the most important position on the pitch, for any team. He will have to run the show in possession, on the counter attack and in defensive transition. His positioning, possession play and creative passing are more crucial to his team's success than anything any other player will do.

Even though he's just 23, and he rarely plays this role, he's expected to pull it off.

Schedule & Results

Tuesday, Jun. 14
Saturday, Jun. 18
Wednesday, Jun. 22