Since becoming the youngest player to appear for Canada at the age of 16, Ghana-born Alphonso Davies has made his mark at Bayern Munich. Michael Renouf continues our series on top African footballers playing in the world’s major leagues
Alphonso or ‘Phonzie’ as he is nicknamed, was born in Buduburam, a Ghanaian refugee camp on the 2 November 2000, where his parents Debeah and Victoria had fled to escape the Second Liberian Civil War (less than a decade after the start of the first and under two years since the fighting had ceased in the initial conflict that set countryman against countryman).
He played his earliest football games not under the watchful eye of an experienced international footballer, but rather with his cousin Aloysius at the ‘Children Better Way Park’ and the ‘Pupu Park’ in the camp that thousands of displaced people called home.
Earlier, his parents had lived in the Liberian capital of Monrovia where they would have to “cross over bodies to go and find food”, according to his mother.
However, he has stated in interviews that he does not remember much of the five years he spent in Ghana, which came to an end when his family moved to Canada through a resettlement programme.
Edmonton, Alberta was the place that the Davies clan of five would call home – Davies has two younger siblings – and in 2015 he would be signed by Vancouver Whitecaps.
At first his parents did not want him to leave the sanctuary of their new home – his mother had seen on television how easily teenagers can go off the rails. Eventually they relented and Alphonso moved to the coastal town, over 1000km away, as part of Vancouver’s residency programme.
Debeah and Victoria had nothing to worry about. They had raised a level-headed son with the help of Nick Huoseh, who coached him at a junior level and would go on to become an important figure in Alphonso’s life, as he concentrated on his football career.
He made his professional debut for Whitecaps FC2 in 2016, aged 15 years, three months, becoming the youngest player at the time to play in the United Soccer League, the North American second tier.
He played 11 games, scoring two goals in his only season at this level. Later the same year he would move up to the first team, making his debut for the Vancouver Whitecaps as a substitute on 1 June against Ottowa Fury in the Canadian Championship.
The next month he made his bow in the top tier of North American football, Major League Soccer (MLS), and in doing so became the second-youngest player to play in that league – only Freddy Adu, who coincidentally was also born in Ghana, turning out at a younger age.
Alphonso made his international debut for the senior team as a second-half substitute in Canada’s 2-1 victory over Curaçao at the tender age of 16 years, 7 months and 12 days.
He impressed coach Octavia Zambrano enough to earn a place in the squad that travelled south to the neighbouring US for the 2017 Gold Cup. In his first game as a starter on 8 July, he inspired Canada to a 4-2 victory over French Guiana, scoring his first and second goals at this level.
Five days later he was at it again, this time scoring the opener against Costa Rica in a 1-1 draw. His first international tournament came to an end when Canada went down 2-1 to event runners-up Jamaica at the quarter-final stage.
Young Alphonso was a roaring success, playing in all four of Canada’s games as either a left or right winger. Not only did he tie for the Golden Boot, he was awarded the Young Player of the Tournament trophy and was selected for the tournament’s Best XI.
However, in his next international, things did not run as smoothly. He received his first and so far, only red card as a professional against familiar opponents Jamaica for violent conduct in the 76th minute. What made it worse however was that he had only come on to the pitch as a 70th-minute substitute in what was just a friendly match.
Big move up the grades
Davies had proved himself in the MLS but come January of 2019 it was time to step up several levels by signing for German giants Bayern Munich – officially putting pen to paper on New Year’s Day.
Alphonso made his Bundesliga debut as a late substitute at home to VfB Stuttgart on 27 January in a 4-1 victory. It would be nearly two months before he scored his first goal for the Bavarian behemoth in a 6-0 rout of Mainz, again at the Allianz Arena.
In his first season in Europe he was used sparingly by manager Niko Kovac, coming on as a substitute in all his games in fact, so for the first time in his career he was not the main attraction.
The next season however would see a change of fortune, thanks to some bad luck for his teammates. Early on, injuries to Lucas Hernandez and Niklas Sule meant David Alaba was switched into the centre of Bayern’s defence and Kovac played Davies at left back instead of in his normal attacking role.
Although Kovac was sacked within two weeks of this decision – after his charges were demolished 5-1 by Eintracht Frankfurt – it proved a sound move and the youngster would soon establish himself in this new position in the side under former assistant Hans-Dieter Flick, who had been promoted to the head coach’s role. The former Bayern midfielder has been so impressed he has picked Alfonso for every game since becoming boss.
We now all hold our breath to see where Alphonso goes next. Will he fail to fulfil his potential like Adu, or will the teenager who became Canada’s youngest-ever player at 16, gave a speech at a FIFA congress at 17 which helped his adopted nation secure joint hosting rights – along with Mexico and the US – for the 2026 World Cup, and who is described as humble by so many, light up the game for years to come?