David Alaba had seen the story unfold but the Bayern Munich star needed an eye-witness account. So on the first day of training, ahead of Austria’s Euro 2016 campaign, he made a beeline for Leicester defender Christian Fuchs. Alaba had just one question: tell me how you did it.
‘It was amazing,’ says Alaba, shaking his head in wonder about the 5000/1 champions. ‘Christian did an amazing job last season. What stories did he tell me? The first thing he said was there was an unbelievable party – I saw them celebrating on TV! – they wrote a new page in history.’
Alaba is the poster boy of Austrian football, a player with a left foot like a magic wand whom Pep Guardiola holds in the highest regard, but his days of work alongside Fuchs are over after the Leicester man retired from international football.
There is, though, the possibility their paths will cross again. The Champions League draw will be watched with keener anticipation than normal on Thursday to see what assignments Claudio Ranieri’s men will be handed.
After beginning their title defence with one point from two games, many will envisage struggles for Leicester in a competition that frequently exposes deficiencies but as we talk before training at Bayern’s Sabener Strasse base, Alba wants to make a point.
‘They have a great team with great players,’ says Alaba. ‘Leicester have a great spirit and they will do their thing again. They have made enemies of a lot of teams now, by that I mean everyone knows what they are capable of and what they can do. Everyone knows they need to be respected.
‘They are dangerous. You cannot win a title if you are not a good team. You can win a final with luck but what they did over a season was not lucky. Nobody expected this story to happen, nobody thought it was possible to do in the Premier League. They did something amazing for football.
‘Can we play against them in the Champions League? Why not? It would be nice, for sure.’
A new era is beginning in Munich and Alaba, who is equally at home playing in central defence, at left-back or in an advanced position in midfield, will be central to it. Bayern signed him as a teenager from Austria Vienna in 2008 and he was instantly helped to settle by Franck Ribery.
‘From day one, he has always been there,’ says Alaba. ‘I used to stay at the youth lodgings here (at Sabener Strasse) but Franck used to pick me up, take me out to dinner; make sure I was okay. He showed me the city, he helped me settle. We were very close from the beginning.’
They now have such a rapport that their alliance on the left is one of the strongest in Europe and so big have been Alaba’s strides that Real Madrid coveted him this summer but a new contract – that will keep him in Bavaria until 2021 – made him unobtainable.
How good can he become by then? Guardiola said in February that he ‘can play everywhere – he will be one of the best players in Bayern’s history’ and reference to that quote sees the 24-year-old tug at the baseball cap he is wearing, the praise from his old manager seemingly not sitting comfortably.
He may blush but Guardiola’s importance to Alaba’s development cannot be downplayed. He benefitted from the forensic, obsessive nature of Manchester City’s manager and the constant tutorials he conducted after training.
‘I’m very grateful for what he did with me,’ Alaba explains. ‘He makes you think all the time and I played a lot of different positions. It was a big pleasure to work with a big coach like him. He wants the best and he wanted to turn me into the best that I can be, so I am very thankful.
‘Pep would always take me aside and make me think about what I was doing, always trying to give me advice and explain exactly what I should be doing. All his instructions were very clear so he made it very easy for me to do it on the pitch.
At the beginning under Pep, we were not that good but, three years later, you see where we are. We have to go through a process to reach our goals. You can see how far we have gone.’
Will Alaba ever be tempted to reunite with Guardiola in the future?
‘At the moment I’m not thinking like that,’ he says. ‘I’m happy here and just want to concentrate on the new season. The Premier League is a great league and when I was this small (puts hands by his knees) I was a Gunners fan.’
He starts smiling as opens up on his childhood affinity for Arsenal. He was born in Vienna after his mother, Gina, emigrated from the Philippines and met his father, George. Football was a way of life for him growing up, his dreams fired by the action he saw on television.
‘My favourites were (Thierry) Henry, (Cesc) Fabregas but the best was Patrick Vieira, for sure,’ he continues. ‘I went to Highbury once when I was small, maybe six years old. My parents took me. The game was against West Ham, I think. Arsenal won. I remember that, for sure. They always won!’
Those last three words now seemingly apply to Bayern, who began life under Carlo Ancelotti with a statement of intent by beating Borussia Dortmund in the German Super Cup and begin their quest to win a fifth consecutive Bundesliga title against Werder Bremen on Friday.
Before that, however, the Champions League draw will be mapped out. Ancelotti has been recruited to go one step better than Guardiola, who lost three successive semi-finals; Alaba was in the squad that won Bayern’s fifth European Cup at Wembley in 2013 and hopes Cardiff in 2017 will be the scene of their sixth triumph.
‘The start has been really good and I am looking forward to have a good season with Carlo’ says Alaba. ‘You can feel it already that he is giving us confidence. He talks to you in a good way and we are all, not just me, excited to work with him in the future. We want to reach our goals with him.
‘We don’t talks about our goals but, of course, the Champions League is always a dream. These are moments that last forever. What we do now, training and working hard, is so we have a chance of winning this tournament and making the dreams come true.’