Like so many others around the world, Alphonso Davies couldn’t quite believe it when he heard last week that Diego Maradona had died.
As young professional athletes are wont to do, particularly ones coming back from serious injury, he was whiling away the hours playing Call of Duty on Twitch. But when fellow gamers started to drop mid-game RIP tributes to the Argentine soccer great in the online chat, Davies was equal parts curious and suspicious. After all, as someone who has developed a reputation for prank-calling his Bayern Munich teammates during his convalescence, the Canadian wingback is not immune from attempts at karmic retribution.
“So I’m looking at the chat and I couldn’t believe it, because you know, they tried to do the same with me with Drake, but they played a joke,” he said.
A quick check of Twitter revealed that this was no joke, however. The 1986 World Cup-winning captain was indeed in the hands of God, and even though Maradona had retired from playing three years before Davies was born, it gave the Edmonton native pause for thought.
“My heart dropped because Maradona is one of the legends of the game, he’s an icon,” Davies said on a Zoom call Thursday from his home in Germany.
“His passing shocked the whole footballing world and a lot of people can’t believe it because you know, life is so short, you don’t know what’s going to happen the next day.”
Given the meteoric rise that Davies has experienced since he played his last game for the Vancouver Whitecaps on Oct. 28, 2018, an existential moment for the 20-year-old was probably overdue. Since making his debut for Bayern in January, 2019, Davies has become an integral part of the German juggernaut, helping it clinch the treble of Bundesliga, German Cup and UEFA Champions League in August. In addition, he was chosen Bundesliga rookie of the year and shortlisted for the UEFA team of the year and defender of the year. On Wednesday, ESPN also named him as the second-best left-back in the world, behind Andy Robertson of English champion Liverpool.
The success of his global trajectory was recognized domestically on Thursday as he was chosen the Canadian Soccer Association’s men’s player of the year for 2020, taking the award for the second time in three years, having also won in 2018.
The run of success means that Davies is one of the few people on the planet who will always look back on 2020 fondly, even if there isn’t one single standout moment for him beyond representing his homeland on the global scale.
“[I] carry the Canadian flag with pride,” he said. “But overall, no, I don’t have a favourite moment in 2020. I think everything that came with 2020 was special to me.”
The one blemish on the year would be the injury he picked up in October, rolling his ankle and tearing ligaments minutes into a 5-0 home win over Eintracht Frankfurt. He’s been doing rehab work on a daily basis since, with Thursday marking his return to the training pitch for the first time since the injury.
“I just thought it was a little ankle sprain, but it was a little bit more than that,” he said. “The road to recovery was tough.”
The pandemic has meant that he is unable to visit his family back in Edmonton. But while he is forced to rely on Facetime to bridge the transatlantic gap, he’s also been using videoconferencing technology to stay in touch with his teammates while he’s been out injured.
Not that they’ve necessarily appreciated the gesture. Drawing inspiration from something he saw on TikTok, Davies has taken it upon himself to Facetime some of the global superstars he now calls teammates. Then when they pick up, he simply says, ‘Let me call you back, I can’t talk right now.’
But given the talents that Davies brings to the pitch, such as he memorably displayed in Bayern’s 8-2 demolition of Barcelona during its Champions League run, those teammates are likely happy to forgive his youthful indiscretions.
The Canadian certainly feels he’s learned from being around a group of World Cup winners such as Manuel Neuer and Thomas Muller, as well as UEFA player of the year, Robert Lewandowski.
“Off the pitch, they carry themselves well, some of the big players,” he said. “So, watching them, being with them 24/7, day in, day out, you know you pick up little things that they do and I grow more and more mature each and every day.”
With Davies leading the charge, Canada is showing up on the big stage of European soccer in a way that it infrequently has before. From the likes of Jonathan David at Lille in France, to Scott Arfield with Rangers in Scotland and Milan Borjan playing in goal for Red Star Belgrade in Serbia, Davies feels as though Canada is gaining newfound respect for its soccer prowess.
“I feel like if we get more and more opportunities, I really think that we can, you know, go far in this game,” he said. “Canada is known as a hockey country. And now that we’re proving that, you know, we can also play football as well.”