Alphonso Davies’ rise altering perception of Canadian soccer

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Bayern's Alphonso Davies, runs with the ball past Chelsea's Mason Mount during a first leg, round of 16, Champions League match between Chelsea and Bayern Munich at Stamford Bridge stadium in London, England, Tuesday Feb. 25, 2020. (Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP)

When 14-year-old Alphonso Davies blew past his competition at the Dallas Cup youth tournament in 2015, Manchester United scout Jorge Alvial was in the stands.

"His attitude, his speed, his progression; he was going to be a future star," recalls Alvial.

A veteran of the sport who had scouted young stars such as Neymar Jr., James Rodriguez and Alexis Sanchez, Alvial believed Davies was the fastest player he had seen at that age.

Over the next two years, he wrote more than 40 reports urging Manchester United to sign Davies, but a bias from Europe against North American soccer stood in the way, says Alvial, and the club passed on the opportunity.

"If Alphonso would have been in Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil, Colombia or Chile, he would have been signed right away," according to Alvial.

"It was hard for a very big team, like Manchester United, to believe that there’s a player in Canada that can make a huge impact," he added.

Davies’ day came on July 25, 2018, when top German club Bayern Munich acquired the 17-year-old for a MLS-record transfer that could reach $22 million.

Today, he’s scoring goals, contributing assists and shutting down opposing attackers – a key player in Bayern’s march toward an eighth consecutive Bundesliga title.

A budding superstar, Davies is not only inspiring a new generation of Canadian players, he’s altering the perception of his home country’s youth soccer system and opening doors for young Canadians who would have previously been overlooked by international clubs and scouts.

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Davies was born in a Ghanaian refugee camp to parents who fled during the Second Liberian Civil War, and moved to Canada when he was five years old. When he received Canadian citizenship on June 6, 2017, Canada Soccer’s president was in attendance to present him with a Canadian jersey. He was officially added to the Canadian Men’s National Team squad the very next day.

Davies is proof a player can grow up learning the game in Canada with clubs such as the Edmonton Strikers and Vancouver Whitecaps, and play the game at the highest level with one of the most prestigious clubs in the world.

Alvial, who now works for IQ Soccer Management, says if he recommended a talented Canadian to Manchester United today, they would "100 per cent" listen to his suggestion and most likely sign him.

"The alarm has gone off," he said. "You’re going to see a lot more scouts from top teams coming over."

Craig Dalrymple, the director of player development for the Vancouver Whitecaps, is already seeing the Davies effect. Giving credit to Major League Soccer as a whole, Dalrymple says the bleachers are full of European scouts checking out the talent.

"Every big MLS youth game, or tournament that we’re involved in, there are more scouts in the stands than there are parents," he said.

Last November, the Whitecaps’ now-18-year-old Canadian international, Simon Colyn, was flown to the Netherlands by well-respected Dutch club PSV Eindhoven for a 10-day training trial.

The Langley, B.C., native had impressed the club’s scouts six months earlier when they attended one of his games in the United States.

"That’s just one example of how small the world has become now," said Dalrymple.

Although Davies’ stardom is bringing international recognition to Canadian soccer like never before, he isn’t the first star in the sport to shine a positive light on Canada.

In 1997, Calgary-born Owen Hargreaves made the move to Bayern Munich as well, where he won the Champions League before moving to Manchester United and winning another.

Despite his birthright, Hargreaves never played for Canada. The closest he came was when he was cut from the under-17 team in 1996 because they felt he wasn’t physically developed enough. With a Welsh mother and English father, he had stints playing for both countries before settling on becoming an English international. He would suit up in both the 2002 and 2006 FIFA World Cups for England.

Hargreaves didn’t have a generation of Canadian men’s stars following behind him to help carry his momentum. While players like Dwayne De Rosario, Julian de Guzman and Atiba Hutchinson have all had phenomenal careers, none reached the heights of Hargreaves.

This is something that Dalrymple thinks sets Davies apart.

"[Hargreaves] hit the top of the game too, but he carried that torch for way too long," he said. "The problem with Owen was that no one of significance was coming in behind him… The good thing with Alphonso is he has a lot of talent coming up under him that will help keep him relevant."

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Former Whitecaps FC Academy coach and current technical director of the Guildford Athletic Club in Surrey, B.C., Adam Day, is particularly excited about Canada’s soccer future.

With a new generation of talented young players such as Jonathan David, Jayden Nelson and Theo Bair following Davies as Canada gets set to co-host the 2026 FIFA World Cup, it’s working out to be a perfect storm for the growth of soccer in Canada.

"You’re really going to captivate a new audience for football," said Day, who remembers Davies’ first week of training with the Whitecaps vividly. "You’re going to have a hometown superstar in Alphonso Davies, and some others, Jonathan David is doing some great things right now… It’ll be great to have a real stacked Canadian squad with players at their peak."

"It just makes it really real for kids to look up to. That’s important for any generation, and just like it’s equally important for the females to have Christine Sinclair or maybe Jessie Fleming, you need to have those idols."

In 2026, Davies and David will be 25 and 26, respectively, and both near their athletic prime. As homegrown poster boys for a World Cup on Canadian soil, Day says the pair could galvanize youth across the country to take to the pitch.

"You’re going to inspire a brand-new generation to want to go out in their backyard and be Alphonso Davies, and take five players on, and put it in the back of the net because they’ve just watched Alphonso do that against Brazil," said Day.

"I think everyone can have that dream, and it’s a bit more of a realistic dream, rather than a pipeline dream now."

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