Talal Al-Awaid isn’t surprised to see Alphonso Davies starring on soccer’s world stage, but even the Edmonton soccer coach is somewhat taken aback by the 19-year-old Canadian’s meteoric rise with Bayern Munich.
Bayern Munich defeated Paris Saint-Germain 1-0 on Sunday for its sixth Champions League title, but first since 2013. The victory capped a remarkable season for Davies, who was named the Bundesliga’s top rookie.
“I’ll be honest, I don’t know that anyone would’ve expected the rise to be this fast this soon,” said Al-Awaid, who served as Davies’ youth coach in Edmonton. “I’m at a point right now where nothing surprises me with him.
“I truly believe he can be the best in the world. He has that drive, he wants to be the best and I really think he can get there.”
Davies’ remarkable season also caught the eye of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
“A historic moment — you made Canadians proud out there,” Trudeau tweeted Monday. “Congratulations on the big win, Alphonso!”
Davies became the first member of Canada’s national team to play for — and win — the coveted Champions League. He’s only the second Canadian to play in soccer’s most prestigious club match as Calgary-born-and-raised Owen Hargreaves won the Champions League title with Bayern in 2001 and Manchester United in ’08, but never played for Canada internationally.
Al-Awaid feels Davies has become the face of Canadian soccer.
“I think he’s changed the game in Canada,” Al-Awaid said. “I think he’s made it a reality that kids can achieve a successful pathway.
“We see kids who used to play soccer as a pastime now have a true goal, a true belief that they can do something with this game.”
Canadian men’s coach John Herdman also is impressed.
“We’re all very proud of what Alphonso has accomplished in 2020,” Herdman said. “And how he’s raised the profile for our game globally throughout the last year.
“We’ve all seen his flair, his technical, tactical and physical ability on the field. But what we’ve now seen is for two seasons he’s been a proven winner and the mindset that develops through that is going to be gold for this country.”
Davies’ accomplishments are all the more remarkable considering he was born in a refugee camp in Ghana after his parents fled the second Liberian civil war. The family moved to Canada when Davies was five and he played for various Canadian youth national teams before getting his Canadian citizenship and almost immediately making his senior national-team debut at age 16.
He’s won 17 caps for Canada.
“He was someone who clearly saw the struggle his parents had gone through and obviously had to go through struggles himself,” said Al-Awaid, the technical lead coach at Edmonton’s Born To Be (BTB) Soccer Academy. “As a nine- and 10-year-old he had to change the diapers of his siblings because his parents were working, those are true stories.
“It lights a different kind of fire in a person to ensure they succeed and make sure their parents and siblings are taken care of.”
Al-Awaid said Davies always was mature beyond his years.
“Even conversations you had with him when he was 12, 13 or 14 years old, it never felt like you were speaking to a kid,” he said. “He understood consequences of actions, he understood time commitments to certain things were what was going to allow him to be successful.
“It’s kind of nice for a coach to have those conversations with someone.”
Davies was signed by Bayern Munich from Major League Soccer’s Vancouver Whitecaps in 2018 for a then-league record transfer deal of US$22-million. In April, Davies signed a two-year contract extension that will keep him with the German squad until 2025.
Montreal Impact coach Thierry Henry, who earned a Champions League crown in 2009 with Spain’s FC Barcelona as part of a decorated career, praised Davies for his rapid development in Germany.
“All the time people talk to me about Alphonso Davies and they talk about his speed, they talk about how he can dribble,” Henry said. “You can’t play for Bayern Munich if you can only dribble and have speed, you need to understand what’s happening, you need to understand the game.
“His attributes will always be his attributes . . . but if you don’t have a brain you can’t play for Bayern Munich. That’s the thing I always put ahead of everything and he has that in abundance.”
Despite Davies’ dominance in Edmonton, Al-Awaid said the youngster put team accomplishments ahead of personal exploits.
“He always encouraged his teammates, he always led by example on the field, which pushed everybody to work harder,” he said. “Sometimes things get tense and kids and coaches are too serious and he’d say something or crack a joke that lightened the mood and allowed everybody to relax a bit.
“You ask any of the guys who’ve played with him and they’ll tell you that someone with his skillset probably could’ve scored a ton more goals and had a ton more highlights. But he just cared more about playing and being part of that group of friends and that team.”
In Edmonton, Davies often played against older competition but Al-Awaid said all that did was strengthen the youngster’s resolve to succeed.
“He was one of those players who probably could’ve played two and three years up his entire life if he wanted to,” Al-Awaid said. “Once he got with older kids to where they were physically more dominant than him, he just worked twice as hard and found a way to make it work.
“The year before he went to Vancouver, he would’ve been 14 at the time, and a local men’s team had an exhibition game but was short players. As a 14-year-old playing against grown men who were playing at the college level and U Sports and some of which are playing in the CPL right now, Alphonso was the player who stood out the most.”
Al-Awaid said Davies has never forgotten his Edmonton roots. He remains an ambassador with BTB and isn’t above taking to the field to practise or play with a team of nine-year-old players.
“He’ll Facetime kids when he doesn’t have to with the time difference that exists between Edmonton and Germany,” he said. “Every time he’s in town, he shows up to our training sessions and camps and is essentially another kid in the program.
“He has that sense of not forgetting where he comes from, he understands the responsibility on his shoulders that he’s someone, although 19, that an entire generation of kids looks up to. He understands the importance of giving back and mentoring kids and tries to do it as much as he can through our program.”