Alphonso Davies: Canada’s humble, joyful soccer phenom

Alphonso Davies has been the sports story in Canada this week, after the 19-year-old soccer star and his team, Bayern Munich, won the Champions League in Europe on Sunday. But it has also been his humility, groundedness, and charisma – as well as his origin in a refugee camp in Ghana – that have earned the nation’s adoration.

Mr. Davies has been invigorating sports observers like Shireen Ahmed of the “Burn It All Down” podcast. “I don’t know if I’m more impressed with his Champions League win or with the maturity he shows on the field, the way he has literally blended in with one of most experienced and sophisticated squads in the world at such a young age.”

What stands out most for her is how he combines technical skill, boldness, and speed with “that spirited joy you don’t often see,” she says.

“Life is too short to be angry or sad for long,” he told Bayern’s club magazine. “We went through tough times when I was very young and I’m so infinitely grateful to my parents. … Their journey began during the civil war in Liberia. … I’m in the happy situation where I can say I can enjoy every single day of my life.”

Toronto

After Canadian soccer star Alphonso Davies and his team, Bayern Munich, clinched the Champions League in Europe this past weekend, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tweeted his congratulations to the 19-year-old left back.

Mr. Davies replied: “Thank you Prime Minister @JustinTrudeau! Can I please come home for a week?”

With that single tweet, the newest Canadian sports star revealed glimpses of how he has captivated his nation. It’s for more than the poise he possesses on the field despite his age, and it extends beyond the irresistible success story of a boy who came to Canada as a refugee and became one of the most important prospects in the game.

His request to the prime minister was a reference to restrictions on travel because of the pandemic that has kept him apart from family in Alberta, while he basks in victory in one of soccer’s most important competitions. But with the question – which included a grimacing emoji and pleading hands along with three Canadian flags – he showed traces of the humility, groundedness, and charisma that his former coaches and sports observers say make him such a good role model and, to some, one of Canada’s most significant athletes.

His story is impossible to put down, one that earned plaudits from the UN Refugee Agency and Canadian politicians across the spectrum. Perhaps most significantly to Mr. Davies, it earned him a follow on Instagram from rap icon (and Toronto native) Drake – a social media honor that had him shouting with delight.

From refugee to the world’s best

He was born in Ghana’s Buduburam refugee camp, which was created for Liberians fleeing civil war like his parents. His family was eventually able to resettle in Edmonton, the capital of Alberta, when he was 5. Early mentors talk often about the long hours his parents worked, and the responsibilities Mr. Davies had at home, at just 10 years old, like changing his younger siblings’ diapers.

It was on the soccer field that he found an outlet and sense of belonging. Tim Adams founded Free Footie in Edmonton, a league for elementary schoolers whose families can’t afford recreational sport. One of his teachers connected him to the program. It was only a brief season, but Mr. Adams says that is all it took. “There are some kids where even if they touch the ball one time you know that they are special,” he says. “He was moving through a crowd of a thousand, and you could tell there was something different.”

He played soccer at St. Nicholas Soccer Academy and for the Edmonton Strikers youth club before enrolling in the residency program of the Vancouver Whitecaps, one of Canada’s top-flight teams, at 14. He had to convince his parents, who were worried about his studies and bad influences, to let him leave. His father, Debeah Davies, hammered into him: “Be a good guy. Be a good kid. Be a good boy,” he said in a Whitecaps video.