It’s taken less than 30 Bundesliga appearances for Alphonso Davies to emerge as one of the world’s most promising left-backs. In fact, many are already touting the Canadian teenager as the best around in that position and if he continues to perform in the manner he has so far, who can blame them?
As part of a #WednesdayWisdom series, we’ve looked at how Davies has transitioned from a promising winger into the starting left-back at one of Europe’s biggest clubs.
Davies’ journey has been anything but simple. Born in a refugee camp in Ghana to Liberian parents who had fled the country’s civil war, he and his family arrived in Edmonton, Canada, when he was just five years old, fearing for their own safety back home.
Upon settling in Canada, Davies’ sporting talent quickly became clear with Tim Adams, founder of the Free Footie soccer league for deprived youngsters, stating: “I saw him make his first touch, and I knew, immediately. This kid has a gift for the game.”
By the time he was 14 – after spells with Edmonton Internationals and Edmonton Strikers – Davies joined the Whitecaps FC Residency programme.
From there, his journey toward professional football began and after heading out on a pre-season tour with the Vancouver Whitecaps’ senior team in 2016, Davies became the youngest player to sign a USL contract at 15 years and three months of age when he penned with the club’s reserve team, Whitecaps FC 2.
It didn’t take long for Davies to work his way into the Whitecaps’ first team, making his senior debut in the first leg of the Canadian Championship against Ottawa Fury in June 2016, before making his MLS debut in July that year, becoming the league’s second-youngest player of all time behind Freddy Adu.
Famously, Davies – who gained Canadian citizenship in June 2017 – started life as a winger, adept at playing right across the front three and using his pace to isolate defenders in one-on-one situations. During his time in MLS, Davies managed eight goals and 12 assists in 65 appearances.
When Bayern came calling in July 2018, they paid an initial £9.84m fee, with performance-related bonuses that could bring the total up to £16.66m — a then-record received fee for an MLS club.
MLS has gone to great lengths to shed a somewhat unfair “retirement league” tag, with the likes of Tyler Adams, Miguel Almiron and Zac Steffen all heading off the production line to Europe in recent years. However, Davies is the most talented of them all and much of the league’s validity as a hotbed for talent rests on how much success he has at Bayern Munich.
Since arriving in Munich, and especially since Hansi Flick took over from Niko Kovac in November 2019, Davies has undergone a wonderful transition into a left-back. Granted, it’s a role he was already familiar with at international level, but replicating that at an elite European level is an achievement in itself.
Facets of his wing-play still remain. Covered behind by the extremely athletic and intelligent David Alaba, with right-back Benjamin Pavard tucking into a back-three when required, Davies is allowed to charge forward as a pseudo-winger, supporting attacks, delivering crosses and causing havoc down opposition flanks. His assist for Robert Lewandowski in Bayern’s 3-0 Champions League win over Chelsea in February – one of six he’s provided in the Bundesliga and European play this season – perfectly demonstrated the speed, skill and end product at his disposal.
However, in that very same game, Davies also demonstrated his fantastic defensive capabilities, using blistering recovery speed to gobble up space behind him and shut down Chelsea counter-attacks.
He made no fewer than eight ball recoveries during that game and anyone thinking this was merely a fluke need only watch Bayern’s 2-0 win over Union Berlin in the Bundesliga return, where Davies sprinted back and shut out an opposition attack at full speed with 87 minutes on the clock.
So, just how close is Davies already to becoming the best left-back on the planet? Common consensus currently places Andy Robertson upon that throne, with the Scotland international playing a key role in Liverpool’s success over the past few years.
While care must be taken when making a direct comparison between the two players, thanks to differences in style both individually and at team level, there are plenty of indicators to show Davies is already performing at the same elite level Robertson is.
For example, in 2019/20 league play, Davies already exceeds Robertson’s chances created per 90 minutes (1.66-1.58) and successful open play crosses per 90 minutes (1.02-0.88), while the Canadian also wins an average of 8.78 duels per 90 minutes, compared to Robertson’s tally of 3.57.
Again, to make a judgement on Robertson’s lower numbers would be unwise. 44% of opposition attacks have come down Liverpool’s right flank in the Premier League this season, compared to just 33% on the left and there are those who often accuse Trent Alexander-Arnold of being their weak link defensively.
However, the raw data alone, along with an ongoing eye test, show Davies is already packing a serious punch to match the hype surrounding him right now.