This article is taken from Get Football’s European Football publication, The Modern Footballer. In his dedicated player profile, Andrew Thompson looks at teenage sensation Alphonso Davies. Print and digital copies available here: http://bit.ly/TMFIssue3. Check out our social media to get your copy.
When you think of Canada, certain stereotypes and quips might immediately enter your mind. The regular jokes about everything being answered with an ‘I’m sorry.’ Maple syrup is usually mentioned, and for good reason given that the province of Quebec is the world’s largest producer of the popular culinary commodity. Cold weather, Tim Horton’s, a love of beer, Europe’s first true point of contact with North America, and under-appreciated contributions in the Second World War are other common associations with the United States’ not-so-noisy northern neighbour. But, very quietly, the nation is mad about sport; particularly hockey, and of course, football.
From an athletic standpoint, Canada has made its mark in a sport they have perfected: Ice Hockey. The greatest player in the history of the sport – Wayne Gretzky – hails from Brantford, Ontario. Nine of the ten best players in the history of the National Hockey League (as voted on by fans, players, and pundits alike) are Canadian. But the nation has given the sporting world so much more than just this popular game.
Olympic goal medal-winning sprinter and Jamaican born Donovan Bailey, iconic NBA point guard Steve Nash, gold medal-winning skier Nancy Greene Raine, and women’s football pioneer Christine Sinclair are all Canadian by birth or citizenship. They’ve left their mark, but football is a game in which they have achieved little.
Though players including the likes of Craig Forrest (West Ham United & Ipswich Town), Paul Stalteri (Tottenham, Fulham & Werder Bremen), and Julian de Guzman (Deportivo La Coruna & Hannover 96) have graced the highest levels of the game, none have ever reached the pinnacle. Or even flirted with it. Aside from perhaps Calgary born double Champions’ League winner Owen Hargreaves. The one percent. That elite level that Canada has reached in sport in other arenas of play. That may be all about to change.
Born to Liberian parents in the Buduburam refugee camp 27 miles west of Accra, Ghana, Alphonso Davies has had a meteoric rise that few have matched in recent years.
After moving to the city of Edmonton at the age of five, Davies lived and breathed football while playing as part of his school district’s youth football scene. At fourteen he joined the Vancouver Whitecaps youth academy, and when he signed his first team contract in July of 2016, he became the youngest active player in MLS at the time. The day after he put pen to paper, he made his competitive MLS debut, becoming the second youngest ever debutant in the league behind Freddy Adu.
His stock would rise virtually overnight after his first season, and he already found himself on the radars of a trio of English giants in United, Chelsea, and Liverpool. But he didn’t truly turn heads until the 2018 league campaign where his physical development was too impressive to ignore.
Despite being deployed on the left of Vancouver’s forward line, Davies’ physical presence as a winger was incredible. Strong on and off the ball, an engine that never tired and lethal pace that few – if any – could come close to matching.
He was still raw in certain technical areas, but he had intangibles that you could not teach. He was a natural athlete, and raw technical ability could always be refined. This caused German giants Bayern Munich to make a surprise move for the now fully capped Canadian international during the summer of 2018. But it took a moment of providence for him to get his chance.
Though he had made his full debut for Bayern during the 2018/19 campaign, it would be in the 2019/20 season where Davies skyrocketed. Having only made appearances off the bench for Nico Kovac early in the campaign, an injury crisis in the Bayern back line saw David Alaba shifted into a left centre-back role, and Davies relied on to deputise in the Austrian’s usual spot.
What made Davies such a highly coveted prospect as a winger allowed him to excel as an attacking full-back for Bayern. His blistering pace and impressive engine room afforded Hansi Flick the luxury of retaining his tactical preference for pushing full-backs further forward and heavily involving them in all phases of play. His technical ability on the ball meant, if there was no passing chain or combination play available, he could beat his marker and find space on his own. Crucially, since his arrival at the club, the refinement in his final ball – one that lacked a degree of consistency beforehand – was regularly on display.
There are few players who were feared more than Davies when he was at full tilt, and even if he was caught further up the pitch, the chances of him running you down and winning back possession or breaking up play remained in his favour.
Though the statistical categories do not speak to a heavy influence (at time of writing he has registered four goals and ten assists in 53 appearances), the eye test is all you need in this regard. He has made Bayern even more dangerous and has quickly become a transformational player despite his youthful exuberance.
The question moving forward is less about where he will end up, but rather, where he is currently. Many have labelled Davies the best left-back in Europe. The praise has continued to be heaped on the Canadian prodigy, and not just from pundits and fans. Fellow professionals such as Andy Robertson, Marcelo, teammates Thomas Müller & Joshua Kimmich, manager Hansi Flick, and a host of other names have all been left reeling by his rising level of performance.
For the first time in the history of football, a Canadian men’s national player has been on the lips of not just European, but world football observers. Though there is always the danger of unforeseen pitfalls rearing their ugly heads along his path, much as players such as Jack Wilshere or Mario Götze experienced, there is no question of the immeasurable potential Alphonso Davies possesses.
Whether you view him as the best in the world in his position currently or not, Davies has truly announced Canada on the big stage. Players like Lille attacker Jonathan David who follow in his wake are only the beginning. American’s softly spoken Northern neighbour won’t be quiet much longer.