By George Nash.
Macaulay Culkin and Steve Buscemi. Will Poulter and Sid from Toy Story. Angela Merkel and the Kazoo Kid. In keeping with the trend of ‘Feel Old Yet?’ memes being plastered all over Twitter timelines and Facebook feeds daily, here’s one for you: Alphonso Davies was born in the year 2000.
Around the same time Davies was taking his first breaths in the Buduburam refugee camp in the Gamoa East District of Ghana, I was most likely kicking back with a couple of Turkey Twizzlers and a six-pack of Panda Pops, eagerly waiting for The Simpsons to start.
Two decades on, the grub is still just as greasy and the choice of beverage no less unhealthy. Two decades on, I’m still watching The Simpsons, only now I’m shelling out £60 a year on Disney Plus for the privilege. Two decades on and Alphonso Davies has just won the Champions League with Bayern Munich.
Feel old yet? I certainly do.
But Davies’s success does more than merely stand as a sobering reminder of age. His remarkable story, relocating to Canada with his family when he was just five after his parents had fled the turmoil of war-torn Liberia, before travelling to Germany for very different reasons 13 years later, is one that also hits with a much-needed dose of perspective.
Five-year-old me had things pretty good. Davies, by comparison, didn’t. Despite it now being well-documented, the physical and emotional journey of this talented teenager remains an inspiring, humbling tale of great success from great adversity.
Given the role he’s played in helping his club scale the summit of European club football, one feels that this might only be the start. Since signing for Bayern from Vancouver Whitecaps in January of 2019 for a then Major League Soccer record of £9.84m, it’s taken just a season and a half for Davies to clock up close to half a century of games for the Bavarian giants.
In the Champions League, he’s been nothing short of a revelation. After making the transition to left-back, Davies has excelled in the intense, unforgiving melting pot of Europe’s elite.
Seemingly unfazed by the challenges of going toe to toe with some of the world’s best, Davies has, save for a few minutes at the end of their quarter-final demolition of Barcelona, been an ever-present figure throughout Bayern’s impeccable campaign on the continent under Hansi Flick. Perhaps only in the nightmares of Barcelona full-back Nélson Semedo has the marauding Davies has been a more regular feature.
On the international stage, Davies, who made his debut for Canada in 2017 not long after gaining citizenship, has already amassed 17 caps, scoring five times.
On Sunday, he became the country’s first male international to play in the final of Europe’s elite club competition. For some, aged just 19, he might already be Canada’s greatest ever player.
With his list of admirers increasing exponentially, among them Rio Ferdinand, Andy Robertson and John Barnes, ruminations of Davies’ potential have, unsurprisingly, already begun to circulate.
Andy Robertson speaking about Alphonso Davies on @btsportfootball: “A phenomenal player. Someone I enjoy watching and I think the whole world is enjoying watching at the minute. He’s already world-class and can only get better.” 🇨🇦🏴⚽️ pic.twitter.com/5o08vTICkG
— James Nalton (@JDNalton) August 18, 2020
Naturally, it begs the question of just how far Davies can go; the question of just how good he can be.
But, for a teenager to excel in a team teeming with seasoned superstars, and a youngster who already appears to possess the full array of assets required of the modern player—pace, power, composure, grace in both attack and defence—it’s also important not to forget just how good Davies is at this very moment. To quote Tolstoy, “remember that there is only one important time and it is Now”.
Anything beyond that is little more than excitable speculation. The future, needless to say, remains uncertain, and, if previous examples are anything to go by, lathering young footballing talents in hyperbole and burdening them with the premature pressure of success has proved a toxic concoction that often yields underachievement and disappointment.
The likes of Kerlon, Josh McEachran and Freddy Adu—players whose careers will be forever defined by what they didn’t do, and whose names have become perennial parts of the ‘whatever happened to’ conversation—highlight just how often young players are placed on a pedestal of greatness, only for that promising potential to never truly be fulfilled. As much as circumstance and character might play their part, the often-irreparable impact of unwanted pressure on such young, impressionable shoulders cannot be understated.
Yet Davies appears to thrive under pressure. It’s possible that his story gives him something of an advantage: off the field experiences that have instilled in him the necessary grounding to make good on the promise of his talent on it. Perhaps he understands better than most that it’s the journey that ultimately shapes the destination, that it is the hard work, the sacrifice and the risk taking, rather than the adoring praise, that helps ensure a footballer reaches the very top of their game.
However, we must be careful. If there’s anything that could do more harm than good, something that might prevent this astonishing teenage prodigy from reaching his full potential, it’s the weighty burden that comes with collective expectation.
Yes, naturally, we should admire the brilliance, but we must also ensure to keep the lofty hopes in check. We must remain vigilant that the prospective player doesn’t overwhelm the present one. In fact, the best thing anyone can do for Alphonso Davies right now is to forget the future entirely. Forget the future and just let this remarkable kid from Canada play.