The Rise of Alphonso Davies: The Canadian Youngster Set To Take Over The World

The Sportsman spoke to Davies' former coaches on the 19-year-old's rise to the top
14:00, 23 Aug 2020

Alphonso Davies was toying with Nelson Semedo. One of football’s brightest, coolest, most exciting young talents had arrived, playing in the Champions League quarter-finals but in an empty Estadio da Luz in Lisbon.

Yet, somehow, the atmosphere was fervent for the hundreds of millions of supporters glued to their television screens around the world. Davies hovered over the ball with his left boot, tricking and teasing the hapless defender in front of him. This was his moment. In a flash, he was gone, powering forward with electrifying purpose and putting the ball on a plate for Joshua Kimmich as Bayern Munich destroyed Barcelona.

However, despite beating the Catalan giants 8-2, it was an innocuous incident in the first half which proved to be the true ‘pinch me’ moment for the 19-year-old Canadian. As he raced up the pitch, he was clipped by Lionel Messi. The Argentine was quick to guide Davies to his feet and patted him on the head.

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Now in the Champions League final, only a few years ago, this kid nicknamed ‘Phonzie’ was playing soccer back home in Edmonton, Alberta, idolising the Barca No 10. He was his majestic football God but now, they were equals.

“I sent Phonzie a caption DAZN put out after the game which said, ‘The best player in the world… being helped by Lionel Messi’,” laughs his agent Nick Huoseh in an exclusive interview with The Sportsman.

“I asked him did he blush when Messi helped him up? He said Messi put his hand out and winked at him, as if to say, good job, I didn’t mean to knock you over. Phonzie was on the phone like ‘Oh Wow’.

“I told him beforehand to make sure he didn’t get all excited. I mean, imagine being stood next to your idol; you’re just excited to be stood next to the guy! I could imagine Alphonso thinking, ‘What do I do?!’

After ripping Barca to shreds down the left wing, Huoseh jokingly enquired as to why Davies didn’t take on the entire team but the young left-back admitted he wouldn’t want to upset the coach, showing the importance of teamwork and his respect for Hansi Flick’s meticulous tactics.

“He’s not selfish, he knows he could score but is aware if he passes, someone else can finish. He has great vision. He’s humble and a team player.”

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Davies’ encounter with his hero was one of the highlights from Bayern’s famous night in Portugal.

“The picture of Messi patting his head, I cried!” beams Davies’ Sixth Grade teacher Melissa Guzzo. “To finally see him on the same field and destroy them was awesome! I can only imagine what he was thinking. You’re playing with the legend!”

Davies moved to Canada when he was five, born in a Ghanaian refugee camp in 2000 after his mother Victoria and father Debeah fled the second Liberian civil war and it was at his inner city school in Edmonton where Guzzo first noticed his potential.

“There is an amazing programme in the city called ‘Free Footie’ which ensures every kid has the opportunity to play sports,” she explained, with lots of low income families in the area. Guzzo arranged for Davies to attend.

“He put us on the map! One game, Alphonso gets the ball and takes out the whole field and everybody’s jaws dropped. Nobody could stop him, then he scores.”

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On another occasion, it became clear Davies was better than the rest.

“I drove him home and asked how things were going. He looked up, ‘I don’t know Miss Guzz… the bigger boys don’t take it well when they have a kid schooling them on the soccer field.’ He was realising they weren’t so friendly being schooled.”

So too, this season, the big boys of Barcelona, Chelsea and Dortmund found out what it’s like to be schooled by the kid. Bringing joy to so many with a ball at his feet, he had a similar effect off the field too.

“He was a goofball,” Guzzo says with affection, “Dancing down hallways, always happy-go-lucky. He never had an attitude, just a great kid who got along with everybody!”

It was the same in Junior High, where he was coached by Marco Bossio at the St Nicholas School’s soccer academy.

“Alphonso was shy at first but gained confidence, had real swagger and came to life,” he explains. “It’s the infectious smile and personality.”

“I played him in an Arjen Robben role; he reminded me so much of Robben how he carved down the right, cut inside and scored,” Bossio reveals. By a quirk of fate, the Dutchman was the first to greet Davies when he arrived at the Allianz Arena.

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Stuck training indoors for much of the year due to Edmonton’s harsh, cold climate, Davies played Futsal which honed his technique.

“Phonzie’s skill in tight spaces was remarkable,” says Bossio. “Now, watching him wriggle out of pressure situations is a glimpse of what we saw.”

So passionate about the game, ‘he eats and bleeds football’, Davies would always take the opportunity to see his heroes play, says Bossio. 

“We would put the soccer balls away, go into my classroom and watch the Champions League matches on Tuesday afternoons. Alphonso was enthralled.

“Now our athletes watch him play. One of our principals made a big poster of Alphonso to put in our gymnasium and it’s a really cool symbol, showing the kids to keep working at their dreams.”

Unstoppable in track and field – Davies is dubbed ‘Roadrunner’ by current team-mate Thomas Muller because he is so rapid – Bossio says, “That combination of athleticism and soccer skills is what made him.”

Davies still holds the record for the St Nicholas fitness test and was also a keen basketball player. However, it wasn’t just sports where he impressed.

“He excelled at Drama,” Bossio smiles. “He did an improv performance in front of the entire school and it blew me away. I’d never seen that side to him; he’d performed on the pitch in front of small crowds but getting up on stage was impressive.”

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It should come as no surprise then that Davies sang Whitney Houston’s ‘I Will Always Love You’ for his Bayern initiation, much to the hilarity of his new team-mates. With 1.7million Instagram followers, he also went viral with a hilarious Backstreet Boys TikTok.

“That’s Phonzie on a regular basis, always joking!” his former coach says.

While starring for St Nicholas at school, Davies also played for Edmonton Strikers Soccer Club. So good, grown adults would turn up at the kids’ game just to catch a glimpse of him.

Huoseh’s son played for the same team when one day, the club director revealed the season would have to be cancelled because the manager had quit.

“’I’ll do it’, I volunteered to become the coach,” reveals Huoseh. Little did he know that decision as a willing parent would change his life and Alphonso’s. Manager and player, the pair were close and Huoseh, who Davies cites as a role model, was a huge help, driving him to and from matches.

“I sympathised with the family doing shift work, one was night, one was mid-morning until the afternoon so they didn’t have much time to take Alphonso to play soccer,” he says. “I stepped into that role and grew to become friends with the family, they’re good people.”

Davies would also go to Huoseh’s house for family BBQs. “He’d have two burgers, two steaks… an hour later he’d come up by himself walking round the kitchen. I’d ask, ‘What's up buddy?’, ‘I’m hungry’. The kid ate so much but burned everything off!”

Soon enough, Canada’s Vancouver Whitecaps came in for Davies when he was 14. However, 720 miles from Edmonton, his mother didn’t want him to move away until he was 17.

“That would have been way too late.” Bossio tells us. “We don’t have the programmes here to nurture that talent, he needed to go.”

After Davies convinced his Mum he would be a ‘good boy and make her proud’, his move could go ahead but the family required help with football negotiations.

“Phonzie’s family realised he needed an agent,” Huoseh explains. “I spoke to agencies but when I sat with his parents to go through the proposals they asked, ‘Won’t you just do this, you’re doing everything else?’

“It wasn’t my area of expertise, I’d be worried I’d make a mistake but his Mum said, ‘Well we’d rather that be the person we trust than someone we don’t. I asked Phonzie. ‘You do everything else, why not?’ and so I entered the agent’s world.”

This was never the plan.

“I’m in the technology business!” Huoseh reveals, bemused, seemingly still finding his role surreal. “I have a company, we offer services for oil and gas. I never thought I’d be a soccer agent!”

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Now he was and, after brokering the deal for Davies to join the Whitecaps, he soon had Manchester United making contact, the first super club to show interest.

The Red Devils wanted to sign Davies for the first-team and planned to first loan him out.  However, a three week offer to train at Carrington didn’t come to fruition due to commitments with Vancouver. ‘Alphonso was pretty crushed’. 

Barcelona, who he adored because of his admiration for Messi, had been keen for him to join their B team too. Teams from all over Europe wanted to sign him. However, it was Bayern Munich who landed the teen prodigy.

“I asked all of the interested clubs, what’s your vision? Bayern hands down were the most organised, they had a presentation, everything laid out, questions answered…”

The deal, which could eventually total $22 million, a record for the MLS, was signed in the summer of 2018. 

So, now playing for one of the biggest clubs on the planet, what set Alphonso Davies apart from other hopefuls? 

“That’s easy,” says Talal Al-Awaid, who also coached him at Edmonton Strikers, “It’s his mindset and mentality, his desire and drive.

“Others were more technical, some bigger, just as fast but he wanted to be the best.

“We played in the Dallas Cup when he was around 13. We had a long trip, flights delayed… we checked into the hotel but as we made sure the kids were in their rooms, we couldn’t find Alphonso!

“Then two people pointed to the gym. He was in there, full of sweat, working out, having just got off the plane while the other kids were on the PlayStation. We asked him why: ‘I didn’t work out today...’

“A lot of people have contributed to his development but not enough credit is given to how hard he’s worked; he’s the biggest factor. I’m not surprised by anything he does anymore.”

An ambassador for Al-Awaid’s BTB Soccer Academy, his little brother is on the programme and Davies always has time for the kids.

On Wednesday night after Bayern’s Champions League semi-final victory over Lyon, he took the time to speak to some of the excited youngsters so they could congratulate him and wish him luck for the final against Paris Saint-Germain on Sunday.

“It shows his humble nature that even after such a huge moment he took the time to FaceTime the young kids for a chat,” says Al-Awaid.

“He’s great. A true testament to how his parents raised him. He never forgets his roots. He’s humble and shows up to our camps. He wants to help, give back to where he came from.

“We work with kids from the same neighbourhood, a lot of immigrant backgrounds, families going through difficult times; he’s come from that and knows what it's like.

“He’s donated 100 balls and equipment. Over 40% of the kids can’t afford to pay to play and without his contribution we couldn’t afford to keep the kids off the streets. He loves it and teaches them to play with enjoyment.”

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While Barcelona and Real Madrid dominated a decade ago, Al-Awaid insists, “You can’t go to a soccer pitch without seeing kids in Bayern gear now. Alphonso is a hero and just getting started!”

Davies will still only be 25 when Canada hosts the 2026 World Cup and #AD19 fever will reach even greater heights.

Those who have been a part of his journey so far, have full faith in what he can achieve.

“He’s the type of person who always shines,” reveals Al-Awaid. “The bigger the moment, the brighter the lights. The bigger the stage, the more enjoyment he gets and the more he performs, just like he did against Messi and Barcelona.” 

The stage doesn’t get much bigger than the Champions League final and those who know Davies best won’t be at all surprised should he lift the trophy.

Nothing surprises them anymore when it comes to Alphonso.