Inside Alphonso Davies’ rise from African refugee to game-changer in Canadian soccer

Canada will play its most important men’s soccer match in nearly two generations on Sunday. And his most important player will watch him on television, on the other side of the world.

Canada probably wouldn’t be undefeated and in first place two-thirds into the CONCACAF World Cup qualifying tournament without Alphonse Davies, his dynamic 21-year-old winger. Without him, he certainly wouldn’t be ranked 40th in the world, which may sound modest, but it’s the highest Canada has ever reached in the FIFA poll.

So when he takes on second-placed USA on Sunday on a frigid artificial-turf pitch about an hour southwest of Toronto, Davies will be missed.

“It’s a fight for the top of the table. That’s all I have to say about what it means for us now,” Canada coach John Herdman said on Saturday. “What an opportunity for these players. It’s World Cup qualification, a huge game and you’re up against your biggest rival.

But they will play without Davies who, after testing positive for COVID-19 earlier this month, was diagnosed with myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart closely linked to the coronavirus. He is not expected to return to training with his club team Bayern Munich until next month and will not play for Canada again until at least March.

And that leaves a big hole in Herdman’s team because what Davies brings to the field is only a small part of what makes him such an integral part of Canada’s success.

Davies was born in a squalid refugee camp in Ghana to parents who had fled their native Liberia during that country’s second civil war in 1999. When he was 5, Canada approved the family’s emigration application and they eventually settled in Edmonton.

Since then, he tries to thank his adopted country.

“There were only two opportunities: either you’re part of the war or you’re trying to get out of it,” Davies, who was not made available for this story, said in an interview online. roundtable last year after being named a Global Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations. ‘ Agency for Refugees. “Everything in the refugee camp was a battle. I can just visualize the smile on their faces knowing that we were going to have a better life once we were accepted into the resettlement program to go to Canada.

“It was an incredible relief.”

His family is not alone. Davies, who became a citizen at 16, is one of five naturalized Canadians on the national team. Goalkeeper Milan Borjan, a Serb, fled the Croatian War of Independence aged 7 and was accepted to Canada five years later, becoming a citizen as a teenager. Forward Jonathan David came from Haiti at the age of 6; Both Iké Ugbo and Samuel Adekugbe were born into Nigerian families in England.

Canada have relied heavily on this group: Borjan leads the qualifying tournament with four shutouts in nine games, David ties the team lead with four goals and Adekugbe has played in Canada’s last eight games, starting five.

And the soccer team isn’t the only Canadian national team to have benefited from immigration policies in the big heartland: Eight of Justin Trudeau’s 38 cabinet ministers are immigrants, including housing chief Ahmed Hussen. , Diversity and Inclusion who fled the Somali civil war as a teenager and sought asylum in Toronto, and Juan Rodríguez, Minister of Heritage and Multiculturalism, who left his native Argentina when his home was bombed and her father tortured during this country’s “dirty war”.

The Canadian Refugee Resettlement Project, established in 1978 as part of the United Nations’ Operation Lifeline, has resettled nearly 300,000 refugees since Davies entered the country in 2005, making his family’s story a iconic story.

“They came here, they lived in a small apartment. They worked hard, paid their bills and just survived,” said Nick Huoseh, who befriended Davies’ family shortly after arriving in Edmonton.

Canada striker Alphonso Davies (19) shoots on goal against Bermuda goalkeeper Dale Eve (1) during a World Cup qualifying match March 25 in Orlando, Florida.

(John Raoux/Associated Press)

Huoseh, himself the son of Palestinian immigrants, coached Davies when he was in elementary school, then became his agent when Davies turned pro at age 15. America, Central America and the Caribbean, it’s not just his talent, it’s the opportunity to show it.

“I was talking with a guy from Africa and he said there are a lot of kids like Alphonso. The only problem is that the opportunity is not there,” Huoseh said. “When you don’t have missiles and bombs falling from the sky, you can focus on your achievement.

“The opportunities are there. You do what you want with them.

Davies’ mother, Victoria, agrees.

“Canada has been good to refugees and we appreciate everything,” she said. “It is easier to find opportunities to work, go to school or play sports when there is security. When you get out of situations like ours, you have to learn to survive.

“Alphonso does not remember much [about Ghana]but we raised him to work hard in life.

Davies went to school in the Beverly neighborhood of northeast Edmonton, where his football skills were evident early on, which made for an easy transition for an African immigrant to a city with fewer than 5 % of blacks.

Now he’s a celebrity there, with nearly 60% of respondents to a recent online poll answering yes to the question “Is Alphonso Davies the most famous Edmontonian of all time?” (Apparently voters forgot that Wayne Gretzky, named after him on a street in downtown Edmonton, also lived there.)

“[He] was the toughest young player to defend in our city. He was strong, fast, quick and had this different type of flare about him. Forget raw talent. Alphonso had a different work ethic, which was the difference between him and the rest of us.

Adam Huoseh, childhood teammate of Alphonso Davies

“He is a generational player. He had that speed and talent that other kids lacked,” Huoseh said of Davies. “So there’s the gift.”

Huoseh’s son Adam played with a 10-year-old Davies in the Edmonton Strikers, a youth team his father coached. Because the Huosehs carried Davies to games and practices, the two boys became fast friends.

“Alphonso was confident and calm at the same time,” Adam said. “Alphonso was the only young player I knew was going to be up there with the big guys.

“[He] was the toughest young player to defend in our city. He was strong, fast, quick and had this different type of flare about him. Forget raw talent. Alphonso had a different work ethic, which was the difference between him and the rest of us.

Adam Huoseh, who now attends university and plays football in England, attributes this to his friend’s upbringing.

“Alphonso never really talked about his background or his goals, but we all knew – and he knew – that he wanted to reach the highest level and live a better life,” he said. “He didn’t talk much about the past, but that was something that made him more eager to do it than others.”

This hunger fueled a rapid increase. At 15, Davies was playing in MLS with the Vancouver Whitecaps, becoming the third-youngest player in league history. Two years later, he moved to Europe in a $22 million transfer brokered by Huoseh, an engineer by trade who, at the behest of Davies’ parents, sold his business to become their son’s agent.

Bayern's Alphonso Davies controls the ball during a German Super Cup game against Borussia Dortmund

Bayern’s Alphonso Davies controls the ball during a German Super Cup match against Borussia Dortmund in Dortmund, Germany, August 17.

(Martin Meissner/Associated Press)

With Bayern Munich, Davies won 10 titles, including a Champions League crown, becoming the only Canadian to lift club soccer’s most important trophy.

The prize he really wants, however, is an invitation to the World Cup, something that was largely beyond Canada’s reach before Davies arrived. Consider the fact that the country is in the final round of the CONCACAF qualifying tournament for the first time since Davies was born.

He won just one in 10 games and was outclassed by 15 goals the last time he went this far, in 1998.

Only one player from Canada’s national team was alive the only time the country played in a World Cup. It was in 1986, when the team was shut out in three straight losses.

A win over the United States on Sunday would virtually guarantee Canada a spot in this fall’s tournament in Qatar. And with the country hosting the 2026 World Cup alongside the United States and Mexico, Canada is already guaranteed to play in this competition.

For Davies and Canada, it proves that a small opportunity can go a long way – an example that has become the motto of an underdog side now on the brink of history.

“He showed a lot of young people who come to this country that anything can be accomplished. “Look at me, I was born in a refugee camp and now I play for Bayern Munich,” Huoseh said. “It gives people that sense of hope.

“You don’t have to be a footballer. But you can make your dream come true.