Spotlight turns to Alphonso Davies ahead of Canada’s World Cup qualifiers in Edmonton

Asked about his favourite soccer memory growing up in his hometown of Edmonton, Alphonso Davies smiled.

“Just being a kid, playing football with my friends… And now here I am playing with the national team in my hometown,” he said.

“It’s just going to feel like I’m back on the soccer pitch with the Edmonton Strikers and just having fun with some friends.”

He’s about to do it again, this time with a band of brothers wearing the Maple Leaf.

The Bayern Munich star will be the main attraction when the Canadian men, currently ranked 48th in the world, host No. 45 Costa Rica on Nov. 12 and No. 9 Mexico on Nov. 16 in a pair of crucial World Cup qualifying matches in Edmonton. Davies’ star power — combined with the appeal of an exciting young Canada team under John Herdman — has already seen close to 40,000 tickets sold for each game at Commonwealth Stadium.

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While Herdman can call on a talented roster with the likes of Atiba Hutchinson, Milan Borjan, Jonathan David, Cyle Larin, Tajon Buchanan, Stephen Eustaquio and Jonathan Osorio, among others, Davies has become the face of the program.

It’s easy to see why. A former refugee whose family found a home in Canada, his backstory resonates.

In games, his blistering speed, drive and bag of tricks on the ball are compelling. But one can argue he strikes a bigger chord off the pitch, especially these days.

Canada’s Alphonso Davies cuts in from the left wing before scoring against Panama’ during second half World Cup qualifying action in Toronto on Wednesday, October 13, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

Davies’ enthusiasm and joie de vivre are exemplary. And while already a celebrity at the age of 21, he exudes everyman.

READ MORE: Canada men’s soccer team draws 1-1 against U.S. in World Cup qualifier

He raves about meeting Drake when the hip-hop star dropped into the team hotel to say hello after Canada’s Oct. 13 win over Panama in Toronto, a game that saw him score a wonder-goal. And his delight — captured via live-stream — at hitting the jackpot by acquiring Lionel Messi — extremely rare and much-prized — when he opened a player pack in the FIFA video game was something to behold.

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Asked which one ranked higher, Davies laughed. “I don’t know. I think they both go hand-in-hand.”

After some contemplation, he chose hanging out with Drake.

“I’ve listened to Drake ever since I started listening to music. Drake is one of my idols. I love all his music.”

“My achievement with Messi was me playing against him (in Champions League play),” he added in a virtual media availability. “Unfortunately I didn’t get to get his jersey. That would have been up there too, probably would have surpassed Drake a little bit more. But I’ll say it was meeting Drake, for sure.”

Davies’ appeal is well documented.

He has become a social media phenomenon with 4.8 million followers on TikTok, 4.2 million on Instagram and 310,900 on Twitter. He can also be described as one-half of Canadian soccer royalty, given he goes out with Canadian international Jordyn Huitema, who plays her club soccer for Paris Saint-Germain.

READ MORE: Edmonton-raised soccer star Alphonso Davies becomes UNHCR goodwill ambassador

Davies has not forgotten his roots, serving as a global goodwill ambassador for UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency.

“He still has a great attitude. He’s still grounded, he doesn’t have a big head,” said Nick Huoseh, who coached him with the Edmonton Strikers.

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Today, Huoseh (pronounced Ho-zee) serves as Davies’ representative in addition to his day job as owner and founder of Edmonton’s ASI Tech, which specializes in building communication systems in the oil and gas sector.

While Davies has attracted plenty of endorsement offers, Huoseh and the Davies family have been selective. Davies has a deal with Nike as well as two other companies whose products are close to his heart — EA Sports and Crocs.

Davies is an avid FIFA gamer and just likes wearing Crocs.

As a Bayern player, Davies also gets an Audi car. Audi owns 8.33 per cent of the German champions.

And while fame and fortune have come with his soccer skills, Davies — whose contract with Bayern runs through 2025 — has hardly put a foot wrong.

Sent off in a September 2017 friendly against Jamaica in Toronto for kicking out at Damion Lowe after the two went down in a tangle in the corner, the then-16-year-old Davies apologized the same day via social media.

“I just want to apologize to CanadaSoccerEN for my breakout on the field earlier today, and to the people that came to watch the game.” The tweet was accompanied by a GIF subtitled “I’m sorry.”

While Davies is coming to Edmonton on business, there will be some pleasure in reuniting with family and friends. He also admits to a fondness for West Edmonton Mall.

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READ MORE: World Cup qualifying games being played in Edmonton: ‘Come be a part of history’ 

His family don’t get to see him play live often. They had hoped to see him in Canada’s game against El Salvador in Toronto on Sept. 8, but Davies ended up having to sit out after picking up a knock to his knee in a 1-1 tie with the U.S. three days earlier in Nashville.

Huoseh said Davies mother saw him play a Bundesliga and Champions League game in 2019.

Davies hasn’t played in his hometown since he was a member of the Edmonton Strikers, before leaving for Vancouver and the Whitecaps at 14.

He said he has only been in Commonwealth Stadium a few times, including a brief visit to take in a Grey Cup back in the day.

“I was in there for like five minutes and then I left because I had to go home. I don’t know how I got in the stadium because I had no ticket,” he added with a giggle. “I think I just went to the game, just walked in and no one saw.”

He’s giving back on his return home, working with Canada Soccer to provide tickets to St. Nicholas Catholic Junior High School, his alma mater.

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Helped by Davies, Canada (2-0-4, 10 points) stands third in CONCACAF’s Octagonal standings behind Mexico (4-0-2, 14 points) and the 13th-ranked U.S. (3-1-2, 11 points). No. 69 Panama (2-2-2, eight points) is fourth.

Come March, after each of the eight teams has played 14 matches, the top three qualify for Qatar 2022 while the fourth-place side takes part in an intercontinental playoff to see who joins them.

Davies has 10 goals and 15 assists in 28 senior appearances for Canada, playing both fullback and a more attacking role.

© 2021 The Canadian Press

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