Canadian midfielder Jonathan Osorio has a near-perfect deadpan. You have to listen carefully to what he’s saying because his non-verbal cues aren’t telling you anything.
Work’s not done yet, but having been eliminated from the World Cup, Canada are moving into the nostalgia phase of this adventure.
So, other than soccer, what have you been up to?
“I went to Brazil and Switzerland,” Osorio said. “Great.”
What goes through your mind when you’re watching this live?
Osorio blinked a couple of times.
“The same thing that goes through my mind when I watch it on TV. But I’m there.”
This is a great description of a modern World Cup. It’s just like TV, but you’re there. Some people get to be more there than others.
If Osorio is a spoke on the Canadian team, Alphonso Davies is the hub. Everything revolves around him. He was the face going into this thing, and he’s an even more familiar one on the way out. He’s suddenly got more ad campaigns than a presidential candidate.
As ubiquitous as he might seem on your television, Davies has been a bit of a cipher off it. He’s done a few TV hits here in Qatar, but hasn’t spoken at length. That’s unusual.
Soccer stars at Davies’s level don’t talk much as a general rule, but they usually do here. Lionel Messi is almost never heard from while he’s on the professional job. But in Qatar, he’s been a regular chatty Cathy. A wily veteran, he knows how to jam four years’ worth of quotes into a few weeks.
On Tuesday, Davies came out to do a sit-down Q&A with media. His management team accompanied him.
If you know him from his vivid online presence, this was a different Davies. Tight, scripted and expressionless.
Why hadn’t he spoken until now?
“Yeah, for me, uh, you know, the goal was, you know, a good one for me, but I wanted to talk about the team …”
He went on haltingly like this for a while. You got the strong sense of someone trying to repeat an answer they’d memorized. Again, not much like the Davies we know.
You had to remind yourself that this kid – he just turned 22 – has for years been little more than a projection of Canada’s collective soccer imagination.
He plays professionally in Germany where, as good as he is, he isn’t asked to speak on behalf of a team. The Germans do that.
We may think we’ve known him forever, but this is his first time being our national focus of attention.
How often does a star get to warm into being truly in demand long after he’s already become famous? Almost never. Usually, the two things happen simultaneously.
That’s what Davies is doing here. He is one of the most sought-after voices in the sport, having never before done any spokesperson-ing.
He didn’t really perk up until someone asked him, “Are you having fun?”
Davies turned his head slightly, as if he wasn’t following.
“Is this fun?”
Finally, a smile and something more than a monotone.
“Yes. Yes. YES,” Davies said. For the first time, he sounded convincing.
“Every time I play the game, it’s truly amazing,” Davies said. “Each and every time I come to training, I’m living the dream and I’m truly happy about it.”
He was asked about his parents, who immigrated to Canada when Davies was a child. How were they handling it?
“When I score a goal, my mom teared up a bit,” Davies said. “My parents are people of few words.”
You don’t say.
Davies came alive again when asked to describe that historic goal. All of a sudden, he’s doing his best Bob Cole, describing every part of the buildup.
He really got going during a minute description of the celebration at the corner stick.
“A lot of players were grabbing my jersey, pushing me, shoving me. I had [teammate] Liam Millar headbutt me one point, he was so excited.”
Now Davies was rolling, and finally at ease. Maybe this whole star lark isn’t that hard? He even managed to run the rhetorical gauntlet after being asked about the missed penalty against Belgium (“I felt confident in the moment … it was a 50-50 … goalkeeper makes a save … it’s one of those things I tend not to lose sleep over”).
You could feel him tensing in anticipation of politics, but no one wanted to ask him those questions. Maybe it felt unfair. Just because someone’s on a podium, it’s not always fair to put them on the spot. Davies gets one mulligan in that regard.
Just as he was warming into it, the plug was pulled.
The last question had to do with Davies’s role in the game’s development in Canada. It’s a big topic, and terribly unfair.
No country can expect one person to carry an entire sports program, but that’s what Davies is being asked to do. Wherever the senior men’s team is at when a home World Cup rolls around in four years time, that will be down to Davies. If he thrives, it will too. If he fades, then good luck. So, you know, no pressure or anything.
What role do you have? What are you planning to do?
“I don’t really necessarily have a role,” Davies said. “I just want to go on the pitch and play.” In other words, like the guy you see on TV, but he’s there.