'I'm not planning on changing' - Canada's smiling superstar Alphonso Davies steps in the World Cup spotlight

Alphonso Davies Canada 2022Getty Images

It's been about four-and-a-half years since Alphonso Davies introduced himself to the world.

He was just a teenager then with braces in his mouth and likely a few nerves coursing through his body. Only the most diehard of North American fans would have known Davies' name, let alone his story. He was only 17, after all, still just a kid.

There he stood, though, giving an impassioned speech to an audience of FIFA dignitaries. He spoke of how Canada welcomed him and his family as they fled Liberia's civil war as part of a whirlwind life that took him from Ghana to Edmonton to Vancouver to, as we now know, superstardom in Munich.

Article continues below

On that day, he spoke of what a World Cup would mean, both to him and to his country, as he campaigned to bring the 2026 tournament to North America.

That 17-year-old kid is long gone, replaced by a 22-year-old man that has accomplished more than he ever could have imagined. He's already a Champions League winner, one of the finest players in his position, and a hero to young players all over the world.

He's also his country's biggest-ever soccer star because, after first helping secure Canada a share of the 2026 World Cup, then he helped Canada qualify for the 2022 edition.

And he's excited to bring everyone else along for the ride, just as he's done since he first broke onto the scene.

From his Twitch streams to his social media presence, Davies is eager to show the joy of it all. In a world where most footballers remain robotic and safe, Davies lets his fandom show.

There's nothing buttoned up about the pure happiness he puts on full display, from the screams to the smiles. He celebrates his big moments, and he celebrates the small ones too.

From watching his country play a vital qualifier on stream or going ballistic over a FIFA pack, Davies' superpower is how accessible he feels off the field considering just how incredible he is on it.

"It's just me being me," he says. "I was a football fan before I was a professional so the fan in me comes out with FIFA, with watching videos, all of the stuff like that. It's just how I am, and I'm not planning on changing.
"On the pitch, people know me as Davies No.19, the footballer. Now, I'm sure they know a little bit more about my life, how I am when they see me in person.

"I think it's important, especially for football fans nowadays. They're getting younger and younger, and they want to see that human side of the players and they want to relate to the players.

"And not just on the pitch, but off the pitch as well by seeing what they do, how they do it and how they go about their day-to-day life."

Davies' openness and enthusiasm is certainly working for him, given how he has conquered the world in recent years. From his breakthrough with the Vancouver Whitecaps all the way through to his trip to Qatar this November, he hasn't stopped moving forward at the same speed he races around the pitch.

But that's not to say its been a smooth road, not by a long shot. There are no easy roads for people like Davies, who truly had to fight for it all. In some ways, though, that's probably what makes it all so sweet: the fact that it probably shouldn't be real given what he's gone through.

There's obviously the story of his upbringing, which is well-known by now.

Born as the fourth of six siblings to Liberian parents in a refugee camp in Ghana, Davies' journey is almost unbelievable.

His family fled the Second Liberian Civil War and, eventually, emigrated to Canada in 2005. He became a Canadian citizen 12 years later, and has dedicated his life to helping lift both refugees and his adopted country of Canada.

"I want to put myself on the podium to show that refugees are human beings," he said. "Given the opportunities, we can be footballers or doctors because we're human beings as well.

"I feel like people have a negative view when they hear the word refugee and I'm trying to change that into a positive thing."

While Davies is more than willing to put himself on the podium, he's less willing to accept how others describe his role with Canada's national team.

In many ways, Davies is unprecedented in Canadian soccer, which has never had a player anywhere close to his level.

Prior to Davies, the closest thing Canada had seen to an international star was ex-Manchester United midfielder Owen Hargreaves, who opted to play for England rather than his country of birth.

And that's what makes Davies' rise all the more important to Canada. At 22, he's won four Bundesliga titles and a Champions League trophy. He's been named to the UEFA Team of the Year, the FIFPro World XI and made two Bundesliga Teams of the Season.

Internationally, meanwhile, he's helped Canada push Mexico and the U.S., the superpowers of CONCACAF, as they finished atop North America's World Cup qualifying table.

But Davies' didn't do that last part alone. He missed Canada's last six World Cup qualifiers as he battled Myocarditis, a mild heart condition, after testing positive for Covid-19.

As a result, he watched on as his teammates did the job without him, going 4-2-0 without their key man to qualify for the World Cup.

Davies is Canada's best player, but not their only one. Stiker Cyle Larin finished as the top scorer in qualifying with six goals, with Jonathan David just behind him with five. Both are playing for major European clubs.

So, too, is 39-year-old trailblazer Atiba Hutchinson, who is at Besiktas, and 23-year-old rising star Tajon Buchanan, who made a multi-million dollar move to Club Brugge this year.

Stephen Eustaquio was a Best XI selection, while the likes of Junio Hoilett and Jonathan Osorio remain as important as ever

At the end of it all, Davies scored just once in World Cup qualifying. He's the face on the billboards, and rightfully so because he is that damn good.

But Canada's success in Qatar, where they'll face Morocco, Belgium and Croatia, depends on a lot more than their golden child.

Davies Canada gfxGetty/GOAL

"There's no pressure on me," he says. "I know that my team has my back and I have their back. Going into the World Cup, we know we all need to stay connected. We need to come together as one, like we did in the qualifying rounds.

"We know that things are not going to go our way most of the time and tempers are gonna flare because of the heat and also the frustrations of the game and stuff like that.

"But, for us, it's just about the brotherhood that we have, staying together, staying connected and playing and showing our talent on the pitch."

"I try to be mellow about it," he adds. "The worst thing that I can do now is overthink too much. I want to go into the World Cup fit, and having that smile on my face."

It was that smile that first captivated fans in Vancouver all those years ago. It's the one that hasn't left his face in the years since. We've seen it as he's lifted the Champions League trophy, as he's qualified for a World Cup, as he's packed Cristiano Ronaldo in FIFA.

And we'll see it again plenty over the next few years on the road to that home World Cup in 2026. Davies' career, for club and country, is just beginning. It may feel like we've gotten to know him so much since he first broke through as the Whitecaps' teenage prodigy, but he still has so much growing to do.

So, too, does Canadian soccer, and Davies is one of many players looking to facilitate that development. This World Cup will be a major moment for the country, one that, hopefully, will inspire another generation of players like Davies to pick up a ball and play.

He's no longer the kid that dazzled in MLS, or even the one that stood before FIFA speaking of his connection to Canada. The braces are long gone.

But the passion, the excitement, the smile still remains for a player eager to continue to use his platform to connect to others as he prepares to play on the biggest stage possible.

"I would just tell 17-year-old Alphonso Davies to be you," he says. "Play the game the way that you know how to play. Don't try to do stuff that you're not comfortable doing. Stick to what you know, but try things.

"That's the only way that you're going to figure out what you're good at and what to work on. Just have fun. Just enjoy the process, enjoy the hard work, enjoy playing and being on the pitch."