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Canada's Young Sensation Alphonso Davies Begins Bayern Munich Adventure

Tom Williams@tomwfootballSpecial to Bleacher ReportJanuary 3, 2019

ATLANTA, GA - AUGUST 01: Alphonso Davies of MLS All Stars during the 2018 MLS All-Stars game between Juventus v MLS All-Stars at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on August 1, 2018 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/Getty Images)
Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/Getty Images

A ping on his phone told Alphonso Davies that his life had just entered a new dimension.

It was July last year and the Canadian teenager had just agreed to join Bayern Munich from Vancouver Whitecaps. He opened Instagram to find a message from Bayern stalwart Mats Hummels welcoming him to the club. It was, Davies tells Bleacher Report with characteristic understatement, "pretty cool."

Davies, who turned 18 in November, has become accustomed to ticking off milestones over the last three years—MLS breakout star, Canada international, multiple award-winner. But he has been living life in the fast lane right from the start.

By the time he turned six, Davies had already experienced more upheaval than many people go through in a lifetime. Born in a refugee camp in southern Ghana to parents who had fled Liberia's Second Civil War, he moved with his family to Canada at the age of five.

They settled in the Ontario city of Windsor on Canada's southernmost tip. Davies remembers nothing of the family's flight from western Africa. His earliest memory is of the first time he saw snow.

"I ran outside in just shorts and a T-shirt," Davies says. "The snow was coming down, and I was like, 'Wow, this is nice.' But it was too cold, so I ran back in the house."

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After a year in Windsor, Davies and his family moved to Edmonton, Alberta, 3,000 kilometres to the north-west. It was there that football came into his life. He started kicking around a ball during informal lunchtime games on the grass fields at Northmount Elementary School. Speedy and a natural dribbler, he was quickly outclassing his peers.

Marco Bossio saw Davies play for the first time in June 2012. Davies was 11 years old and was taking part in a youth tournament called Free Footie at Rundle Park, a sprawling municipal space that sits on the northern bank of the North Saskatchewan River.

COMMERCE CITY, CO - JUNE 01: Alphonso Davies #67 of Vancouver Whitecaps dribbles upfield against the Colorado Rapids at Dick's Sporting Goods Park on June 1, 2018 in Commerce City, Colorado. (Photo by Timothy Nwachukwu/Getty Images)
Timothy Nwachukwu/Getty Images

"As soon as I saw him play, I knew that he had exceptional athleticism and talent," Bossio says. "His athleticism was extremely high—his pace with and without the ball. At such a young age, that's very, very rare."

Bossio is the programme director of the highly regarded football academy run by St. Nicholas Catholic Junior High. To Bossio's delight, Davies came up to him and informed him that he would be enrolling at St. Nicholas the following September.

Recognising that Davies had the talent to go far, Bossio sought to improve his all-round game. In particular, he encouraged him to work on his weaker right foot, even banning him from using his left foot on occasion. Most of the time, it was simply a case of standing back and watching him go.

"He had this quiet, reserved confidence in himself. He knew that he was a top player. You could just see it, the way he was on the field," Bossio recalls.

"At one tournament, we were a goal down at half-time. I went up to him and kind of said: 'Listen, Alphonso, you're the best player on the field. It's time to start showing that.' He scored three or four goals in the second half, set another player up, and we ended up winning 5-1. He would just take over matches."

FC Bayern English @FCBayernEN

#FCBayern are delighted to announce the signing of @AlphonsoDavies! 🇨🇦 He’s joined the club on a contract running until 2023 🔴⚪️ #MiaSanMia https://t.co/yKSowVLsz7

Eager to expand his young charges' football education, Bossio would allow them to watch Champions League matches in his classroom, with the time difference between western Europe and western Canada meaning that the games often took place in the middle of the school day. Davies would watch with heightened attention whenever Barcelona played, and his eyes would light up every time Lionel Messi flitted across the screen.

"Messi was the player," Davies says now. "He still is."

Bossio put in a call to Craig Dalrymple, the technical director of the academy programme at Vancouver Whitecaps, to alert him to Davies' potential. Shortly after his 14th birthday, Davies flew to Vancouver for a weeklong trial in December 2014. Following two further visits—and a number of visits from Whitecaps staff to his family in Edmonton—he agreed to move to Vancouver in August 2015. His mother, Victoria, had taken some convincing.

"His mother was very reluctant to send him over to Vancouver," Bossio says. "His parents were very scared of him leaving home and rightfully so. I mean, he was 14 years old, right? To put it in the perspective of his whole story, they did so much to get him to a safe environment. They didn't want to let him go."

Dalrymple recalls that when Davies visited Vancouver for the first time, he was "a little intimidated" and "wasn't quite ready" to leave home, but although the move took a bit of time to put together, those at the club had few doubts about his ability.

"It was like walking past a school and seeing the best player in the playground," says Dalrymple, a former youth-team player with English Championship club Ipswich Town.

HOUSTON , TX - JULY 11:  Alphonso Davies of Canada looks on during the 2017 CONCACAF Gold Cup Group A match between Costa Rica and Canada at BBVA Compass Stadium on July 11, 2017 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Matthew Ashton - AMA/Getty Images)
Matthew Ashton - AMA/Getty Images

Housed with a host family in Vancouver, Davies was soon speeding through the ranks in the Whitecaps' player development programme. He started playing with the under-16s in September 2015, but by Christmas, he was with the under-18s. In February 2016, he signed with Whitecaps FC 2, the club's reserve team. At the age of 15 years and three months, he became the youngest player to have signed a United Soccer League contract.

"When I signed that USL contract, my perspective changed on me being a professional footballer," Davies says. "That was my goal ever since I was young. I never thought I could achieve it, but that's when it clicked in my head that I can really go far in the sport."

He made his first-team debut for the Whitecaps in a Canadian Championship match against Ottawa Fury in June 2016 and made his MLS debut a month later, becoming the second-youngest player in the North American top flight after Freddy Adu.

The day after his first-team bow, he stunned Dalrymple by turning up for a training session with the club's under-16s. Dalrymple told him he couldn't play but suggested he make himself useful by running the line and handing out water bottles to his team-mates. Davies happily acquiesced.

Davies became a Canadian citizen in June 2017 and made his Canada debut in a friendly against Curacao the same month, becoming his country's youngest-ever player. He sparkled at that year's CONCACAF Gold Cup in the United States. Canada reached the quarter-finals, and Davies finished as the tournament's joint-top scorer (three goals) and was named Best Young Player.

Last year was his breakout campaign. He scored eight goals and supplied 11 assists in 31 MLS appearances. He earned a spot in the MLS All-Star squad and was named both Whitecaps Player of the Year and Canadian Men's Player of the Year. Bayern Munich secured his services in July for an MLS-record fee of $13.5 million guaranteed (rising to $22 million with incentives). He had been playing top-level football for only two years.

"I don't think we'll see an ascendancy this quick again," Dalrymple says. "It just shouldn't happen as quick as it did. He shouldn't have adapted as quick as he did. Fortunately, he was blessed with the right character to handle it."

Alexander Zemlianichenko/Associated Press

While they are sad to see Davies go at the Whitecaps, he left the club having inspired huge affection.

"Everyone loves him. It's ridiculous. It's kind of cheesy, but everybody loves the kid. It's almost sickening," Dalrymple jokes. "He's just got this infectious smile as he walks around the place. He's humble. He doesn't get involved in situations he doesn't need to. And he just loves to play. Hopefully, that will continue at Bayern and the next steps of his career."

Davies trained with his new team-mates for the first time in November, and Bayern head coach Niko Kovac has pledged that the winger will go straight into the first-team squad after formally joining the club on Jan. 1. Davies is particularly excited about playing with Arjen Robben, whose playing style closely mirrors his own, and Thiago Alcantara, who he describes as "a maestro."

Bayern published footage on Twitter of Davies' first training session, during which he could be seen chatting to Robben as the pair ambled across one of the pitches at Saebener Strasse. So what were they discussing? Ball-striking techniques? Their favourite boots? Bavaria's best nightspots?

FC Bayern US @FCBayernUS

🛬 Landed, 🏥 Medical, ⚽ Training. @AlphonsoDavies has arrived in Munich! 🇨🇦 #MiaSanMia #FCBayern https://t.co/rcEHTf3Umq

"I was actually talking to him about the weather," Davies says, revealing a more prosaic truth. "I said, 'Are you not cold?' And he was like, 'No, I'm Dutch.' I was like, 'OK!'"

Davies spent Christmas with family in Edmonton and returned to Vancouver to have the dental braces he has worn for the last 18 months removed. "I'm happy about that," he says.

Bayern have found him an apartment in a youthful area of Munich, and he has been having up to three German lessons a week. He is looking forward to exploring his new surroundings, although he reveals he is a natural home bird, preferring to stay in watching YouTube and playing FIFA or Fortnite. He claims his skill in the kitchen has earned him the grandiose nickname Chef D but says he is usually "too lazy" to cook.

Paris Gore, Red Bull Content Pool

When asked which areas of his game he still needs to work on, Davies volunteers a detailed list—speed of play, decision-making in the final third, that pesky right foot—and says he has set no defined targets for his first half-season as a Bayern player.

"Right now, I'm just looking forward to learning from [my team-mates], and every time I get on the field, just give my all and hopefully try to score some goals or get some assists," he says.

Davies is already an icon of Canadian football and was enlisted to help his country's successful bid to cohost the 2026 World Cup with the U.S. and Mexico, giving a short, heartfelt speech about his remarkable life story to delegates at last June's FIFA Congress in Moscow.

"I think he will inspire a generation here in Canada," Dalrymple predicts.

By the time he turned 18, Davies had conquered North America. Now, it's Europe's turn.

      

Alphonso Davies spoke to Bleacher Report after becoming the first individual soccer player in North America to be signed as a Red Bull athlete.

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