Alphonso Davies might not have enjoyed his 8 a.m. soccer practice runs as a youth alongside the North Saskatchewan River in his hometown of Edmonton, Canada. But today, one of the fastest players in European club football can look back at those memories a bit more fondly.
“It helped me a lot having to run for a while,” Davies said.
From running up and down stairs and hills in Alberta as a preteen to hoisting trophies with one of the most prominent football clubs in the world, the 19-year-old is making a name for himself as a talented wingback and one of the most promising Canadian soccer talents ever.
“The Roadrunner” had a banner 2019-20 season. He helped Bayern Munich win its second-ever continental treble, winning a Bundesliga league championship, the DFB-Pokal German competition and the UEFA Champions League title with a victory over Paris Saint-Germain in August. He’s a crucial component to this year’s Bayern team, which begins its season Friday against Schalke. He even got fellow Canadian Drake to follow him on Instagram.
“I was just trying to prove myself, trying to show that I’m able to play at this level,” Davies said. “And me winning the league, me winning the Pokal and now the Champions League, it’s an amazing feeling for me. Being so young, doing it so early in my career — it’s amazing. But has it sunk in? I would say not yet, but it’s definitely getting there. Still can’t believe all this is happening.”
Davies was a key player for Bayern this past season, scoring three goals and getting five assists in 29 appearances in the Bundesliga while winning nearly 57 percent of his duels (aerial and ground) and completing more than 87 percent of his passes in open play. He added three more assists in Champions League play.
In June, Davies set a speed record as the fastest player in the Bundesliga since at least 2011,1 attaining a top sprinting speed of 22.7 miles per hour during a match against Werder Bremen. His speed is also faster than any recorded speed from La Liga this past season.
“It’s a big part of my game,” Davies said. “Being blessed with the speed I have is amazing. And I’m happy that I can showcase it in most games to help out the team with my speed in attack and defense.”
“Looking up to him when you’re young and now playing against him, it was very nerve-wracking for me,” Davies said, “especially when he would come on my side. My heart would be beating faster and faster every time he gets the ball. But I tried to stay calm.”
Before Davies was sharing the field with one of the world’s best, he had humble beginnings as a refugee. Born in a Ghanaian refugee camp to Liberian parents who were fleeing a civil war, Davies immigrated to Canada with his family when he was 5. He took up soccer and played for youth clubs in Edmonton with Nick Huoseh, his future agent, as his coach.
“At 8, 9 years old, he was just running circles around all the other kids,” Huoseh said. “I’ve seen a lot of boys that were very fast and quick and then as they got older their bodies changed and then they slowed down. But he never did — he just got faster.”
Huoseh remembers training sessions up to five times a week with Davies and his teammates. One portion saw the team run up a “fairly steep” hill behind the Castle Downs Family YMCA in north Edmonton after discussing tactics and playing scrimmages. Davies and his mates would run up to the top of the hill and perform 20 situps and pushups before eventually running back down.
On weekends, the team would run up and down stairs along the city’s River Valley area. Huoseh would challenge his players to record the fastest times possible in their runs before ending the session with a scrimmage and a visit to a nearby Subway for lunch.
“Alphonso never missed a practice, never missed training,” Huoseh said. “It was always important to be at training.”
“Having a coach like him, it was good,” Davies said. “He kept us in shape.”
Davies’s potential eventually caught the eye of the Major League Soccer club Vancouver Whitecaps FC, and he ascended to their senior side in 2016. Then-manager Carl Robinson remembers seeing Davies in a reserve match in which he took off from his own penalty area with the ball and dribbled past three players before launching a cross.
“It reminded me a lot of Ryan Giggs,” Robinson said of the longtime Manchester United star, “because Ryan Giggs was the only player that I knew that could run faster with the ball than without the ball.”
Robinson, along with his team’s sports science department, sought to improve Davies’s running technique during his time in Vancouver. They focused on his feet positioning on sprints, having him start either on the ground or with his two feet on a line, as opposed to a natural sprinting position with one foot in front of the other.
“That’s not normal in football because you’re doing football-related movements. You’re jumping for a header, you’re landing. You’re turning, you’re twisting, so you don’t actually start in a sprinting position,” Robinson said.
The manager thought the already gifted Davies was a good student in training.
“You can’t coach natural speed,” Robinson said. “But what you can coach, you can coach running techniques. You can coach sharpness within speeds, so that means how you start, how you push off and how you maintain your sprint speed by the technique that you use. And you’re able to do it due to your fitness.
“We knew that we could help with certain aspects within that, and we did. He was fully committed to the work even though he knew he was the quickest player that we had. He made a point of trying to win every race.”
The lessons in practice worked on Major League Soccer training grounds, and they worked in real games as Davies constantly sprinted past opposing players.
Former teammate Kei Kamara remembers games in which Davies would “effortlessly” run around defenders in loops, or toy with them with the ball at his feet. There was the night against D.C. United in 2018 when he scored a wonder goal in stoppage time.
“I don’t think he even knows, sometimes, how fast he is,” Kamara said. “In games, we tell him [to] just go. He can feel himself just glide by people.”
Not that many other footballers could catch up to him, anyway.
“I’m happy to have the speed that I have, especially in football nowadays,” Davies said. “Players are getting faster quicker, thinking [they’re] faster than all the players. I’m just grateful to have the speed.”
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