This is the exclusive story of Alphonso Davies who fought through adversity to achieve his dreams and conquered in Lisbon.
Meep. Meep. The roadrunner gets going. He breaks into his stride and whoosh, he bursts into a full sprint. It happens in the blink of an eye. His muscles stretching taut, the galloping legs in full flow, eating up the turf. As an observer it’s hard to keep up. Imagine being on the field. Meep. Meep. The roadrunner takes the ball. Thomas Muller smiles. He likes what he sees.
When you visit Edmonton, you don’t think of football. Edmonton is cold. A brisk wintry cold. The kind of cold that stabs and pokes you and makes you not want to go outside. For six months in the year football pitches are left idle. The city flocks to ice rinks instead and their beloved Edmonton Oilers. Kids grow up wanting to be the next Wayne Gretzky or Glenn Anderson.
It’s hardly on peoples’ minds.
Not Alphonso Davies though. None of the hockey stuff gripped Alphonso Davies. He didn’t follow the crowd. He didn’t grow up wanting to play on the rinks and chasing pucks. He grew up dreaming of Messi. Dreaming of the Champions League and the World Cup. Football was all he could think about. And acting (as he recalls in his Players Tribune memoir). But mostly football.
Growing up is never easy. Hurdles and challenges are always aplenty. Alphonso Davies had it tougher than most.
His parents were forced to flee a war-torn Liberia before Alphonso was even born. He came into the world in a refugee camp. Buduram, situated on the outskirts of Ghana, was Alphonso’s place of abode until the age of five. There was no violence in the camps, but the struggle was there. Poverty was rife. You had to hustle to survive.
The whole time his parents dreamt of a better life. They wanted their kids to grow up without the fear of money. Without the fear of violence.
Edmonton might have been harsh and cold but it offered an opportunity. A chance for Alphonso and his family to forge a future.
There was a lot to learn at first. The snow. The cold. The language. A new system. School.
Marco Bossio taught Alphonso at school. He also coached him at St Nicks. His first memory of Alphonso is still ingrained in his memory.
‘I went to go and watch him play, and he was electric on the pitch. He was playing with his own age group and he was dominating. He was unbelievable. One of the fastest players I’ve ever seen. His combination of speed and skill was different level.’
From an early age, Alphonso was obsessed about the game. His father played amateur level in Edmonton and Alphonso would go and watch him play. He would dream on the sidelines about following in his father’s footsteps. It was a gripping fantasy. In spite of the environment around him Alphonso would always find ways to play his beloved sport.
Nick Huoseh knows Alphonso Davies well, he is his agent, a close family friend and his former coach. He first saw Alphonso play when he was just 9 years old and he became his coach at a local club in Edmonton.
‘Even at that age he was more mature than the other players. He was really passionate about the game. Some kids played just for fun, but he played because he wanted to be there.’
Talal Al-Awad, Nick’s assistant manager was just as close with Alphonso.
‘Mentally he was just ahead of everyone, he had a desire to want to be the best player every time he stepped on the pitch regardless of who was there. He never took a day off. He had that ambition to succeed. In addition to that he always had a smile on his face and he always enjoyed playing. He worked harder than everyone but he also enjoyed it more than everyone.’
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Alphonso’s love for the game and his mental fortitude at such a young age will have stemmed from his upbringing. He grew up with a lot of ‘baby sitter duties.’ His parents were immigrants and they had to hustle to provide for their kids. That often meant they worked long early morning or late night shifts which left Alphonso having to take care of his siblings.
‘His parents were both working shifts at different times. His mom would start late at night, ten pm or so and work night shifts. His father would start his work at four o’clock in the morning.’ Nick recalls.
In that environment getting to football practise wasn’t easy.
‘Alphonso always relied on other players and their families. When I started coaching him I was picking him up and bringing him to training most of the time,’ Nick says proudly.
Sometimes he’d even miss out on training Talal recalls.
‘I remember at ten or eleven years old he couldn’t come to training or a game because he had to babysit his brother or sister, and you know most people that age are not even concerned about that. So he doesn’t take anything for granted. For Alphonso football was a sense of gratitude and appreciation. He respected the essence of the game and he valued every moment he had on the pitch.’
Talal is right, most of us take football for granted. We can player whenever we want. There’s always a field or a garden nearby and as kids there isn’t anything tying us down. But not Alphonso. He didn’t have access to pitches like we do. In cold Edmonton with knee deep snow, you can’t just play football on the fields or the streets. You can only play indoors and when most of your free time is eaten up by having to take care of your siblings football becomes an outlet to express yourself and way to be truly free.
School at St Nicks and Nick Huoseh’s team provided the only two regular platforms for him to play.
‘He played indoor soccer quite a bit with us,’ Marco recalls. ‘We had him training in our gymnasium playing futsal. Six months of the year he was training indoors. But there was a flip side to that. There are moments in the professional game when you watch him get pinned down in the corner and you think there is no way out but he manages to wriggle his way out the situation quite easily. I think that’s a credit to playing indoors.’
Marco makes a good point.
There is a reason why Alphonso Davies is nicknamed the roadrunner. Marco remembers watching him for the first time and just how electric he was even as an eleven year old. It’s easy to spot. Alphonso still holds the Junior high-school fitness record at the school and dominated in track and field, especially the 100 and 200 metre spirts. He has a tremendous engine.
But often players with such pace learn to rely solely on their speed. You can’t do that when you’re playing indoors though. You’re crammed into tight spaces and you need to learn how to dribble yourself out of them. Playing in that environment would have benefited Alphonso Davies tremendously.
‘He always found a way to correct his mistakes and do better. Sometimes we’d play teams and they would triple team him with three guys standing next to Alphonso, they didn’t care about anyone else!’ Nick recalls.
Under Nick’s coaching, the young Canadian was introduced to more intense methods of training. It was the kind of challenge Alphonso craved and in Nick he found the perfect mentor. Nick was a stern and meticulous coach. He instilled a hard-work ethic in his players.
‘My expectations were very high. When a player lost the ball I expected them to go back and get it. If you don’t get the ball back you’re running laps and you’re going to be doing push-ups.
Every Saturday morning at 8am, we used to go to the river valley. They have these stairs with 300 steps and I would make them run up and down those stairs about twenty times. In football you need to have a strong core.’
You can see the remnants of that intense training in Alphonso today. The way he chases players down, how he can gain ground on them even when they have the advantage and shrug them off with ease. A lot of that comes from Nick’s training.
It paid dividends too. Alphonso started to shine in Nick’s team. People were starting to take notice. Alphonso had talent. He was fast. Intelligent. Driven. Skilful. But the question was could he do it in other environments outside of Edmonton?
The answer would come in the form of the Dallas Cup. Nick and Alphonso’s Edmonton Strikers had been drawn to play tough opponents from the US and Mexico. They would be playing against older age groups. It was Alphonso’s chance to prove his worth. Nick and Talal both recall that as the turning point in his development.
‘Alphonso performed really well in that tournament. He just dominated his opponents. It was the moment where we could measure and evaluate him against players at a very high level. We played against FC Dallas, Monterrey and Pumas in that tournament. They were some really big clubs. Alphonso performed amazing against FC Dallas. He scored twice against Monterrey. He really stood out.’
Now people were really starting to take notice. This kid wasn’t just good. He was really good.
‘Scouts from US colleges and MLS academies started to pay close attention to him in the Dallas Cup. There were scouts for the US national team who thought we were an American team and they started asking if he had a green card and they were a bit surprised and disappointed when they realised he was from Canada,’ Talal chuckles.
It wasn’t long until the Whitecaps came calling. While initially they told Alphonso to improve. The second scout who came down to watch him for Edmonton Strikers was amazed by his talent and invited him for another trial.
‘I flew down with him to Vancouver,’ Marco recalls. ‘We went down for a trial and as soon as they saw him play in the exhibition game the coaches didn’t want him to leave and come back to Edmonton. He put on a show.’
It took some convincing, with Alphonso’s parents reluctant to let the 14 year old stay 510 miles away from Edmonton in Vancouver, but ultimately they gave in and Alphonso went to join the Whitecaps.
He started out in the club’s U16 team, but he didn’t last very long there. Six months later, the club were so impressed they gave him a professional contract, and signed him to their second team. Nick, remembers the period with pride.
‘We didn’t think six months coming into their academy he’d be given a contract. They had players there who were there for two years and at 14 years old he just came in and surpassed every kid that was there.’
A few months later, Alphonso got an even more surprising call. At just 15 years of age 4 months short of his 16th birthday, he became the second youngest player in MLS history.
‘He was excited,’ Nick remembers. ‘For a 15 year old it was like wow this is exciting.’
But it wasn’t always smooth sailing. Although Vancouver had recruited Davies to the first team, he had to bide his time to get a proper chance.
‘He got down a few times because in the beginning he didn’t get to play as much. He was just 15 years old. All he wanted to do was run around on the field and kick the ball about. When you take it away from him and all he does is train it becomes tough in the beginning but then he started to get his opportunities more and more and things started to take off.’
Things took off indeed. The rest is history really. Alphonso dominated the MLS even as a 16 year old. He’d glide past his opponents with ease and it was hard for the Vancouver’s boss, Carl Robinson, to keep him off the pitch.
People outside Canada and North America started to take notice too. Giants like Liverpool and Manchester United showed interest, but Alphonso chose Bayern Munich.
Predominantly a winger, Bayern saw Alphonso’s role in the team differently.
‘They came with a plan,’ Nick explains. ‘They said we want to use him in the left-back position and on the wing, but more so we thought he would be up top on the wing.’
While Alphonso initially started out in his customary position the German side progressively honed his defensive qualities and utilised Alphonso’s pace in the full-back role instead.
‘When they saw him in training and saw how he could defend and how he was very good at it, I think that became his spot.’
From October of last year, Alphonso has been deployed as the German side’s first choice left-back and he has flourished. It’s not however a wholly unfamiliar role for the young man.
‘We played him a little bit in defence,’ Nick recalls. ‘When players were injured or if we were winning an important match and we needed to defend we would put him back because he was fast and he could defend.’
It’s not a role that fazes Alphonso either.
‘We spoke about it and he told me they were going to play him left back, I asked do you care? And he said no as long I play,’ Nick tells me.
It of course helps that Alphonso has the perfect role model in David Alaba at Bayern.
‘He helped him a lot,’ Nick explains. ‘Alphonso always tells me how David is giving him good advice in training, telling him what to do and stuff like that. I think playing next to Alaba has been huge for Alphonso in getting him to understand that position well.’
You can see that communication on the pitch too. With Alaba often deployed as the centre-back, the Austrian international is usually in close contact with Davies and that can be reassuring for a young player.
In the 8-2 demolition of Barcelona, Alaba’s guidance encouraged Davies to blossom. Coming up against his childhood idol Alphonso completely shunned Lionel Messi out of the game. His relentless pressing and surging runs forward caused Barcelona major problems too and it was proof of his tremendous talent. The characteristic dribble to weave through Barcelona’s defence was just the icing on the cake.
It was the same in the final. Alphonso was composed. Never fazed by the occasion. His last minute diving header to thwart Neymar’s cross and win a free-kick was a vital intervention to help him become the first ever Canadian Champions League winner.
At 19 he has already started to inspire a new generation of Canadian talent.
His positive attitude on and off the pitch is infectious. You can see it on his Tik Tok and interviews. It’s why fans love him.
‘At St Nicks every time he walked into the room everyone would just be happier,’ Marco remembers with a fond chuckle.
‘He does not take the opportunity of playing football for granted. He just respects and appreciates every moment he has and that definitely sets him apart,’ Talal explains.
His rise has touched people around the globe. Even in the hockey fanatic Edmonton, people are obsessed with Alphonso Davies. The next generation are no longer dreaming of playing with pucks. They see Alphonso playing in the Champions League final and they want to follow in his footsteps.
‘He is a big inspiration and a huge motivator for aspiring soccer players,’ Marco Bossio concludes. ‘In the past they could have never imagined making it but now here’s this young footballer playing against his childhood idol and it’s truly remarkable. There is a big poster of Alphonso in the gymnasium and it’s an inspirational symbol for all of our kids, every time they walk in there it’s a constant reminder that they can reach their goals if they work hard and stick with it.’
‘Everything he does there is always a sense of wanting to give back from where he’s from. He’s an ambassador for my academy in Edmonton called BTB Soccer Academy and he continues to give back to it. He donates equipment, balls, jerseys and his time every time he’s in town,’ Talal explains.
Alphonso is leading the next generation of Canadian stars into a bright future. The kid from Edmonton who dreamt has made much of his dreams come true. But there is still so much more left. The potential is abundant.
Canada will host the World Cup in 2026. Edmonton will be one of the host cities. If fate prevails, Alphonso Davies will be there.
For now though. He’s just going to keep playing. Keep striding forward. Keep being the roadrunner that he is.
Watch out it’s Alphonso Davies and he’s going to get the ball. Taken on one, take on two striding towards the goal.
The roadrunner is unstoppable.
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