After eventful year, Canada's Alphonso Davies set to shine on soccer's biggest stage

Paul Stalteri first saw Alphonso Davies when he was 14 at a Canadian under-15 camp in Toronto.

"You could see right away he had something different," said Stalteri, a former Canada captain who was a Canada Soccer youth coach at the time. "Obviously at 14 a different body than he has now, but he was fast and dynamic and still powerful when you compared him to the players around him."

The question then was where would he play?

"At that age, almost like he is now, you could play him in any different position. And he was able to do special things," said Stalteri, now an assistant coach with Toronto FC. "We had him up front, we had him out wide. Obviously at that point you're not going to put one of your best players, if not your best player, as a fullback but we had him up top with Jonathan (David) in (a few) games which was a pretty potent tandem together."

"He had all the tools to be a real great player," he added.

Moving to Bayern Munich in early 2019 helped unlock those tools with then-manager Niko Kovac settling on him as left fullback after Injuries forced Bayern to make changes on its backline.

"People always looked at him as a striker or a winger up until that point," said Stalteri, who blazed a trail for Canadians in Germany where he won the Bundesliga title with Werder Bremen. "Look at where he is now? He's arguably the best one in the world in his position. He's had a great run and he's at a great club. Picking that place to go to was huge for him in his development and a real good decision for him."

Now Davies gets to shine on soccer's biggest stage.

Davies' story is well known. Born in a refugee camp in Ghana to parents who had fled the civil war in Liberia, Davies came to Canada when he was five.

In July 2016, a 15-year-old Davies signed a homegrown player contract with the Vancouver Whitecaps, becoming the third-youngest in history to sign an MLS deal. Two years later, the Whitecaps agreed to sell Davies to Bayern Munich in a then-record MLS deal, worth possibly in excess of US$22 million.

Davies, then 17, finished out the season with Vancouver before officially joining Bayern in January 2019.

He was just 16 when he made his senior debut for Canada in June 2017 against Curacao, becoming the youngest men's player in Canadian team history. He had obtained his Canadian citizenship the week before.

Davies scored twice in his next national team outing, a 4-2 win over French Guiana at the 2017 Gold Cup, where he won the Golden Boot Award as leading scorer and the Best Young Player Award as well as being named to the tournament's Best XI.

Davies has since become the face of Canadian men's soccer, on and off the field. In June 2018, he opened Canada's presentation to the FIFA Council in Moscow as part the joint North American bid, along with the U.S. and Mexico, to host the 2026 World Cup.

"The people of North America have always welcomed me. If given the opportunity, I know they will welcome you," he told delegates.

Today Davies has 12 goals and 16 assists in 34 appearances for Canada. And his dream of playing at a home World Cup is on track.

In March 2021, Davies became the first footballer and first Canadian to be appointed as a global goodwill ambassador for the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR). He has already pledged to donate his World Cup earnings to charity.

Davies has played 143 games for Bayern in all competitions with eight goals and 21 assists. And his trophy cabinet is brimming with three Bundesliga titles, two German Cups, the UEFA Super Cup, DFL Super Cup and FIFA Club World Cup, not to mention a UEFA Champions League winner's medal.

He was Canada Soccer's Player of the Year in 2018, '20 and '21 and CONCACAF Player of the Year in 2021.

Davies had a roller-coaster year, sidelined with symptoms of myocarditis, a mild heart condition, following a bout of COVID-19 over the Bundesliga's winter break.

He missed seven of Canada's 14 games in CONCACAF's final round of World Cup qualifying, eventually returning to action in mid-April.

More recently, he suffered a cranial bruise after taking an inadvertent boot to the face from Borussia Dortmund's Jude Bellingham in early October. And he limped out of a Nov. 5 game at Hertha Berlin clutching his hamstring.

Both Bayern and Davies say he is good to go in Qatar. Canada coach John Herdman has his fingers crossed.

Davies has endeared himself to many off the field as well.

His social media accounts are followed by a legion of fans. He has 6.6 million followers on TikTok, 5.1 million on Instagram and 472,800 on Twitter.

While sidelined earlier this year, Davies was a keen observer of the Canadian men as they marched towards World Cup qualification — a bundle of energy as he livestreamed his reaction.

More recently he enthusiastically showed off his Halloween costume — him riding a dinosaur — on TikTok.

Canadian midfielder Jonathan Osorio says success has not spoiled Davies.

"He hasn't changed with everything that he has accomplished," said the Toronto FC star. "And that's really admirable. I think that's a great achievement in itself.

"To not lose yourself with everything that's going on with him and with all the attention and with the amount of achievements and accolades that he has got, it's pretty amazing he's still able to just be a normal kid and enjoy his life and live in the present day as himself and nobody else. He's genuinely himself on everything he does on social media, in real life."

Osorio still marvels at his human highlight-reel Canadian teammate.

"It's pretty incredible the things that he can do athletically. I have the privilege to see it most days in training."

Canada captain Christine Sinclair is an unabashed fan of the 22-year-old from Edmonton.

"As soon as he has the ball, you just feel anything's possible," she said.

Even when he doesn't have the ball.

In May 2020, Davies famously ran down striker Erring Haaland, then with Borussia Dortmund, from behind and ended a penalty-box threat. he was clocked at 35.3 kilometres per hour in chasing down Haaland, now with Manchester City.

Bayern veteran Thomas Muller dubbed Davies the Bayern Road Runner that day, referencing the speedy cartoon character.

"He's a player with a lot of heart and a lot of power, extreme power," Mueller said after the game. "Sometimes maybe he's not (at his) best position on the field, but he gets the opponent when you think, 'Oh, I have time, I have time' and then 'Meep meep meep meep' the FC Bayern Road Runner comes ahead and steals the ball."

And his rocket-like acceleration to intercept a ball — headed toward touch with a Panama defender shepherding it out — and then steam towards goal, undressing a defender before beating the 'keeper in a World Cup qualifier in October 2021 only added to that legend.

Davies' speed is nothing new to Edmonton's Nick Huoseh, who coached him as a youngster and now represents him.

"He was like a gazelle," Huoseh told The Canadian Press in 2020. "He would just take off and you can't catch him."

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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 16, 2022

Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press