National Post (National Edition)

I'm happy that I was able to lift those trophies and carry the Canadian flag with pride.



Canadian soccer sensation Alphonso Davies punctuated his rise to stardom on a warm August evening at the Estadio da Luz in Lisbon, Portugal.

Already considered a rising talent in the German Bundesliga with FC Bayern Munich, a moment of brilliance against legendary Spanish club FC Barcelona featuring the greatest player of a generation, Lionel Messi, rendered Davies a genuine star.

The 20-year-old Edmonton product, playing left back for Bayern, collected a bouncing ball 12 yards into his opponent's territory, 63 minutes into a UEFA Champions League quarter-final against Barcelona.

Davies shielded and then spun away from Messi, sidesteppe­d a sliding tackle from Arturo Vidal, leaving the Chilean internatio­nal pounding his fist on the pristinely manicured grass, and sprinted down the sideline, where he was cut off by defender Nelson Semedo.

Squared up against the Portuguese internatio­nal, Davies faked right and stepped past him on the left as if going around orange pylons in practice. Davies took the ball down to the end line, then across it, froze centre-back Gerard Pique, slipped past him, and when he was seemingly cornered by three opponents, picked out teammate Joshua Kimmich with a defence-splitting pass for an easy tap in and a 5-2 lead in what would become an 8-2 rout.

“I was almost ashamed of how happy I was after scoring, because it was obviously 99 per cent his goal,” Kimmich said after the game. “All I had to do was tap it home.”

The play was the highlight of an extraordin­ary season for Davies, who is the Postmedia Male Athlete of the Year. He went on to cap it off by winning the UEFA Champions League title with Bayern and then the UEFA Super Cup, becoming the first member of the Canadian men's national team to win the prestigiou­s titles.

Arguably, it was the most remarkable year ever by a Canadian athlete.

To put things in perspectiv­e, the UEFA Champions League final draws more than three times the global TV audience of the NFL Super Bowl.

In total, Davies won five titles with Bayern Munich this past year, also claiming the German Bundesliga title, the German Cup (DFB-Pokal) and German Super Cup.

In December, Davies was named to the FIFA World 11 team as one of the best 11 players on the planet last season, making the star-studded team at the left back position.

And if that wasn't enough to validate his standing as the best Canadian athlete, Davies was chosen to share the cover of a highly popular video game, eFootball PES 2021, along with Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Marcus Rashford; pretty heady company for the young Canadian.

“I don't think I have a specific favourite moment in 2020, I think everything that came with 2020 was amazing,” Davies said. “Winning five titles in a year is amazing, and I'm happy I was part of that, and I'm happy that I was able to lift those trophies and carry the Canadian flag with pride. I think that everything that came with 2020 was special to me.”

Considered a promising talent from his early days playing minor soccer in Edmonton, few could have predicted Davies' rapid rise to world stardom, just over two years removed from playing in Major League Soccer with the Vancouver Whitecaps. His transfer fee to Bayern Munich set an MLS record at the time, and he has since signed an extension with the German giants through the 2025 season.

Davies has become an inspiratio­n to millions of Canadians who followed his championsh­ip runs during a difficult time amid a global pandemic. For a time, European soccer was the only profession­al game being played, one of the first to return from a global sports hiatus.

“Being an inspiratio­n to other people and having people look up to me, me being so young, is incredible,” Davies said. “The run I've been on with Bayern has been amazing, as well, winning trophies. I'm happy for all the support I'm getting back home and I just want to thank everyone that has supported me.

“I feel like more Canadians are getting to know who I am now. I'm happy for that. I'm happy I'm getting more people looking at me. I'm happy that I can wear the Canadian jersey with pride and I'm happy that I can say that I'm a Canadian playing overseas. I just want to inspire the next generation of Canadian players to do the same. I know there are a lot of other players that are trying to make it, so I just want to give them a lot of hope.”

Davies' entire story is one of hope.

Born to Liberian parents in a refugee camp in Ghana, his family immigrated to Canada, where they settled in Edmonton. He started playing organized soccer in an after-school program for Edmonton inner-city youth unable to afford registrati­on fees called Free Footie. From there, Davies joined a local youth club and was eventually noticed by the Whitecaps and invited to join its youth residency program.

Davies moved up the Whitecaps' system and made his profession­al debut with their second-tier team at age 15. A year later, he made his debut with the Whitecaps in the MLS, becoming the second-youngest player to ever play in the league. He made his Canadian internatio­nal debut at 16, becoming the youngest player to wear the national team jersey. A year later, he became the youngest player to score for the Canadian men's national team.

It wasn't long before top clubs in Europe started to take notice and Bayern stepped up, offering the record transfer fee to the Whitecaps. Davies joined Bayern in January 2018 and has never looked back.

“The last two years have been amazing. I'm really grateful for everything that's happening in my career,” he said. “I have a lot of people that are down to earth around me, so I have a lot of good friends that have helped me keep my feet on the ground. Me winning all these trophies is amazing and I want to keep going. I have to enjoy each and every moment and I have to stay humble as well because you don't want to get too far ahead of yourself; you want to deal with it day by day and step by step and go on with life.”

Davies has quickly become the face of Canadian men's soccer, and along with a talented group of players, hopes to get the national team back on the biggest stage by qualifying for the 2022 FIFA World Cup. Canada has qualified for the tournament only once, in 1986, and has rarely come close to returning since.

Canada will begin its qualifying campaign for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar before co-hosting the event in 2026 as part of a joint North American venture with the United States and Mexico. Due to the pandemic, the men's national team hasn't played in nearly a year.

“I think everyone is excited for the upcoming (national team) camp,” Davies said. “I don't think this pandemic has been easy on anyone. Going into next year, I think it's going to be amazing because we have qualificat­ion for the 2022 World Cup. We're all excited and getting ready to put on a good performanc­e for 2021.

“Hopefully with Bayern, we can win the season again and going into 2021 with Canada, hopefully, we can win the Gold Cup and qualify for the 2022 World Cup.”

With his success, Davies is looking to open more doors for other Canadian soccer players to get opportunit­ies with major European clubs. There are already a number of players successful­ly making the jump overseas on both the men's and women's side.

“When I was growing up, I felt like no one gave Canadians a chance, and now that they see we have quality in Canada and they are coming on, it's amazing to see,” he said. “The women as well, it's amazing. I feel like, if we get more and more opportunit­ies, we can go really far in this game. Canada is known as a hockey country and we are showing that we can also play football as well.

“The message to the young players is that hard work and dedication is everything. As a footballer, or anything in life, if you're dedicated you have to fight for that and don't give up however hard it is. It's going to be tough down the road, but the more work you put in, the greater achievemen­t you're going to get out of it.”

Through all his early success, Davies has maintained his humility. He's become a social media sensation and is constantly working to be better both on and off the field. Playing on a team full of global stars helps in that regard.

“I've learned a lot from the veterans here at Bayern,” he said. “They've told me on the pitch, when I play the game, have some fun and play how you know how to play. Off the pitch, they carry themselves well, and watching them, being with them day in and day out, you pick up little things that they do and I grow more and more mature each and every day.”

Naturally with success comes higher expectatio­ns, which Davies is willing to accept. He has already achieved so much at such a young age, it's difficult to fathom how much he has yet to accomplish.

“I don't feel any pressure. The same way that I played this last year, is the same way that I'm going to play this year,” he said. “I don't think anything is going to change with me, I'm still going to go out there and play my game. There is no pressure. I know that I'm young and a lot of people are looking at me, but that doesn't change my mindset, that doesn't change who I'll be off the pitch and on the pitch. I'll stay the same and play the game that I know how to play, I'm not going to change anything too dramatic about my game.”

 ?? ANDREAS GEBERT / REUTERS FILES ?? Bayern Munich's Alphonso Davies, above in action against Lokomotiv Moscow on Dec. 9, was named one of the best 11 players on the planet last season.
ANDREAS GEBERT / REUTERS FILES Bayern Munich's Alphonso Davies, above in action against Lokomotiv Moscow on Dec. 9, was named one of the best 11 players on the planet last season.
 ?? MARCO DONATO / FC BAYERN / GETTY IMAGES ?? Rising Canadian star Alphonso Davies, seen during December's online broadcast of the FIFA The Best Awards,
won five titles with Bayern Munich this past year.
MARCO DONATO / FC BAYERN / GETTY IMAGES Rising Canadian star Alphonso Davies, seen during December's online broadcast of the FIFA The Best Awards, won five titles with Bayern Munich this past year.

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