The 3-time Champions League winner and 9-time Austrian Footballer of the Year talks about the lessons that he learned from his childhood in Vienna, its fusion with his Filipino-Nigerian culture, and how they collectively shaped his mindset moving forward.
When the Austrian football team scored a 2-0 victory against Germany last week, the crowd at Ernst-Happel-Stadion burst into cheers. Albeit being a friendly match, the stands were full of fans who came to see their hometown heroes in action. Among those in attendance was a group of around 20 Filipinos who came to support one of the players, none other than the team captain David Alaba.
Alaba has gotten used to this collective outpour as he grew up in a large Filipino community within Vienna. His childhood was spent heavily immersed in his cosmopolitan roots, most notably his mother’s Filipino side. Before emigrating to the city, his mother dabbled in pageantry which intersected with other cultural tentpoles that the young Alaba witnessed such as screenings of Manny Pacquiao’s boxing matches, karaoke sessions, and regular social gatherings.
Alaba’s early exposure to her culture became a positive force that contributed to his upbringing. It instilled in him a sense of camaraderie. “When you grow up in this environment, you’re more than friends. You call yourself [a] family, like you’re my cousin. Their parents were like aunties and uncles to me,” he says.
Family has always been an important facet in Alaba’s life. He developed a close relationship with his parents and his sister, as well as the maternal aunt and grandparents who came to live with them. They taught him the importance of treating everyone fairly, which would later influence the way that he would act towards his teammates despite being one of the revered veterans. “Being in a team where you have different people, different players, different cultures, and just trying to bring them together, I think this is [also] what I have from my Philippine and Nigerian side.”
Beyond the aspects of fellowship and togetherness, Alaba learned from his parents the merits of working hard and staying driven. His father, George, had moved to Vienna from Nigeria to study economics. He later on became the first black guard soldier in the Austrian army. Meanwhile, his mother, Gina, worked as a nurse.
Seeing how their diligence yielded favorable results, Alaba never waned in his desire to improve his game and become a professional football player. “I knew from the beginning how much I loved this sport and I had a dream inside me relatively early on that I was determined to fulfill,” he remarks. After joining the junior team of FK Austria Wien when he was 10, it did not take long for him to rise through the ranks and achieve great success. He has since played for some of the biggest teams in the world, including his current club, Real Madrid.
But despite attaining such feats, Alaba has continuously sought to do more than what is entailed of him on the field. Throughout the course of his career, he has felt a strong pull towards charitable ventures given the significance of the platform that he has. With that, he found ways to empower others through setting up football cages, building pitches, and working with his foundation to donate a modern biodegradable toilet facility in the Ogere-Remo community of Nigeria.
He has also found a way to intersect his desire to help with his affinity for fashion, as he sets out to work with designer Grace Wales Bonner for a philanthropic project. Bonner is the founder of the eponymous brand that is known for its thematics rooted in heritage and narrative explorations. This aligns with Alaba, who constantly gets inspiration from his diverse background; while his lineage draws from two different cultures and he plays for a European club and country, he feels no tension in these textures of his identity.
“Fashion and clothes are a big part of who I am,” he says, “I’d say my interest in fashion started relatively early as my parents were very particular about my appearance whenever I left the house.” With their partnership due for a later release, this is something that Alaba is very excited about. He hopes to expand his altruistic endeavors, and this collaboration marks a step to that direction. “There is still so much more I want to do in order to help young people follow their dreams and reach their full potential.”
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