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Striker David Alaba has paid tribute to Louis van Gaal and FC Bayern München's senior players as the German side attempt to round off a remarkable season with victory in the UEFA Champions League final.
The 17-year-old Austrian international has enjoyed a meteoric rise in 2010, making his Bayern debut in the round of 16 second leg at ACF Fiorentina to join fellow tyros Thomas Müller, Holger Badstuber and Diego Contento – all 21 or younger – in appearing on the road to Madrid. Van Gaal has a simple explanation for their involvement, saying: "If I see that a player has talent I'll put him in the team, whatever his age."
Alaba duly acknowledges the coach's influence in his progress this term, telling UEFA.com: "He has played an important role in my career so far, he's always been there for me when I needed him. Louis is a very important person for me."
Defender Badstuber agrees that the faith Van Gaal shows in the junior members of Bayern's squad has helped them thrive, saying: "The coach believes in us, and we know what we're capable of. When we play well, that faith is repaid by the team. They support us every day. That makes it easy to forget your nerves."
After the 3-0 win at Olympique Lyonnais in the UEFA Champions League semi-final second leg, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge described Bayern's pride in their emerging youngsters: "It's often said that Bayern simply use their financial clout to buy quality. That's a myth, and tonight will go some way towards debunking it."
Alaba, however, reckons those high-profile stars have been enormously helpful towards their rookie colleagues. "You can learn every day with them and can develop further," the Vienna-born forward said. "[Getting into the senior squad] was an important step for me. I can learn a lot, not only on the pitch but also in everyday life. I have developed as a player but also as a human being. I've improved a lot in every part of the game."
Although he hopes its finest moment is yet to come, Alaba – who has three international caps, the first two coming before he had broken into the Bayern side – is already able to look back on a memorable first campaign. He calls his debut at Fiorentina "an incredible dream".
There could be more heightened emotion in store at the Santiago Bernabéu on Saturday, and Alaba is relishing the prospect – something he admits he could barely have believed 12 months ago. "In previous years you sit in front of the TV to watch the final and this time you have the opportunity to play in it – incredible.
"Personally I haven't come to terms with it yet. It's simply incredible. To be involved in the final is a dream for every single player, not only young ones. Of course I am thinking about what could happen. I am in the middle of a dream and maybe it will come true."
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