There probably weren't too many Bayern Munich fans who knew much about Alphonso Davies when the German champions signed the Canadian teenager, but the $13.5 million acquisition was definitely known by the long list of European powers that tried to buy him.
The 17-year-old speedster became the most expensive transfer in Major League Soccer history when Bayern Munich signed him on July 25. Bayern beat out a host of rivals including Real Madrid and Manchester United to land Davies.
So who is this youngster that had so many world powers eager to sign him? Davies is a fast, strong and versatile prospect with the tools to be special, a player who has made a meteoric rise in the past year after making the jump from promising youth prospect to teenage sensation scoring goals for club and country.
Davies' story began in a refugee camp in Ghana, where he was born to Liberian refugees fleeing the violence in their native country. His family made its way to Canada when he was five years old. Davies emerged as a prodigious talent in the Edmonton youth soccer ranks, and soon drew the attention of the Vancouver Whitecaps academy. Davies joined the Whitecaps academy at the age of 14 and immediately established himself as a special talent. So special, in fact, that he turned pro just a year later, first signing with the Whitecaps second team before signing an MLS contract that made him the third youngest player in league history.
The Whitecaps took their time with Davies, purposely keeping him away from the media and bringing him along slowly as a first-team player. He gained experience in USL with Whitecaps 2, but admits to having felt eager to break into the Whitecaps first team sooner than he wound up appearing.
"As a player you want to play every single game, and every single minute," Davies said. "I think now I can see that. When I was 15, 16, they put me in little by little, I can see now at the end of these two years that it has come along beautifully and they handled things the right way."
The Canadian national team wasn't quite as patient, with then-coach Octavio Zambrano identifying Davies as a special talent well before he gained his Canadian citizenship.
"I knew from the moment I was assigned the national team that Alphonso was a priority," Zambrano told Goal. "Behind the scenes I knew there were processes in place for him to get his citizenship, but I was adamant about him getting it prior to the (2017) Gold Cup."
Zambrano flew to Vancouver to see Davies with the Whitecaps, and the trip only served to reinforce what he already believed: Davies was a generational talent for Canada.
"One thing is to see him on video, but when I saw him alive and up close I knew he was something special and I immediately began talking to the federation president about his citizenship process and where he was at," Zambrano said. "Once I had him in camp, it confirmed everything that I thought about him."
Zambrano wasted no time integrating Davies into the Canadian setup after he secured his citizenship, and Davies rewarded the decision by scoring two goals in his first start for Canada, on the way to winning the Gold Cup's Golden Boot at age 16.
That performance served notice around the globe that there was a Canadian prospect worth seeing, and scouts began showing up at Canada and Whitecaps matches to see what the fuss was about.
As impressive as he looked in 2017, Davies has made a clear leap in 2018, playing with more confidence and developing into the kind of player capable of single-handedly terrorizing opposing defenses.
"You watch him play and he has the ability to take over a game." Sporting Kansas City defender Graham Zusi told Goal. "You've see him do that this year several times already, and then you remember he’s 17 years old. I’ve seen him grow in just half a season. You can see that he’s almost become a leader on that team, which isn’t something you see often from a 17 year old, and that’s what has impressed me the most."
Like Zusi, Portland Timbers star and reigning MLS MVP Diego Valeri has watched the teenager's growth as a regular opponent, and most recently as Davies' teammate at the MLS All-Star Game.
"You can see that he’s mentally very mature," Valeri told Goal. "As a 17-year-old, the way he plays is like a 25-year-old. In just one season he’s a very different player and that says a lot about his mentality."
Davies is playing with a new level of confidence in 2018, and his stunning performance shortly after signing his deal with Bayern Munich — which saw him score two goals and deliver two assists in a Whitecaps win — show a player who isn't letting the extra attention negatively impact his game. If anything, it is helping Davies.
"As a soccer player you want to perform, whether it’s in front of 72,000 or even 1,000," Davies said. "You always want to be your best because you never know who’s watching."
While Davies might be seen as more of a long-term investment by Bayern, he has the speed and attacking qualities to potentially contribute right away when he joins the German champions in January. He has watched fellow North American teenagers and U.S. national team midfielders Christian Pulisic and Weston McKennie make their marks in the Bundesliga, and believes he could hit the ground running in Germany.
"Watching those players perform in the Bundesliga is eye opening because they’re not that much older than me," Davies told Goal. "And me going over there I just want to play the game."
Before he does that, Davies must finish out his current season with the Whitecaps. He doesn't turn 18 until November, which prevents him from being able to play for Bayern before January. Once he gets to Munich, Davies will look to his power and attacking skills to earn minutes right away. It will be up to Bayern manager Niko Kovac to figure out where to use Davies, who has played as an attacking fullback, winger and forward as a pro.
Regardless of where he winds up playing, those who have watched Davies blossom believe he could be the next North American teenager to shine in the Bundesliga.
"[Davies] can play any position because he’s a footballer," Zambrano told Goal. "He’s really and truly a kid with the soccer sense to know what to do wherever he’s at on the field. In that sense, in the football sense, he can play any position, but where he can be the most effective and he can be more productive is in the last third.
"He could play in the back, he could play in the midfield, but a kid like that you want up front because he’s going to find his way to the ball and he’s going to score."