If you go anywhere in Europe, South America, Africa, or Asia and tell them you’re Canadian, the Canadian sportsperson they’re most likely to tell you they know won’t be Connor McDavid, it won’t Sidney Crosby, and it won’t even be Wayne Gretzky. It will be Alphonso Davies.
Davies is only twenty-two years old, but is already the most high-profile athlete this country has ever produced, on a global scale. Of course, it doesn’t mean anything concrete, but Davies currently has 5.1 million Instagram followers. Four million more than Connor McDavid, two and a half million more than tennis star Genie Bouchard, and almost five million more than Canada’s greatest-ever soccer player, Christine Sinclair. Quite frankly, no Canadian athlete comes anywhere near his numbers.
Davies is Canada’s most marketable athlete, from his solo goal versus Panama that ignited Canada’s World Cup campaign, to winning the UEFA Champions League with Bayern Munich, it’s no exaggeration to say that, marketing-wise, he has done more than any other Canadian to put Canadian soccer on the map, and if he does nothing else, would’ve far exceeded doing his part for growing the sport here. His homecoming at Edmonton’s Commonwealth saw bumper crowds of 48,806 and 44,212 in November, despite the fact the stadium was effectively frozen and resembled a hockey rink more than a soccer stadium. Those numbers are astounding – and the player those fans wanted to see the most? Alphonso Davies.
So why do I mention this? Because unfortunately, a recent article from a well-known Canadian institution has implied that Davies heightened celebrity status is a bad thing for Canadian soccer, a claim that, quite frankly, is naive and out of touch at best, and sinister at worst.
The issues stem from a reluctance from Davies to do media interviews with media outlets he isn’t forced to talk to out of contractual obligations. Since the Croatia game, I had seen media personnel online air grievances and frustration towards Davies, coming across as if there is a sense of entitlement that Davies has to talk to them, that Davies needs the media as much as they need him. Here’s the thing, he doesn’t, and it’s not even close.
Traditional media doesn’t have the power it once has. Davies has YouTube and Twitch channels that total over half a million subscribers. His YouTube has a total of 2.2 million views, and his twitch videos always have tens of thousands of viewers. Davies doesn’t need the media to talk to fans and tell people how he feels, he has those means himself, and the future soccer stars of tomorrow aren’t watching players do interviews on TV, or listening to them on the radio, they’re getting inspired by seeing and hearing their idols on platforms like Youtube and Twitch.
No child gets inspired by watching soccer players do generic media interviews, they get inspired by seeing them enjoy themselves and interacting with them on a digital platform. Not every athlete is comfortable or willing to talk to the media, it can be an anxiety-inducing experience (not to say Davies has media anxiety, I have no way of knowing that). We’ve seen high-profile athletes in recent years talk about how mandatory media appearances have had a serious effect on their mental health. Tennis star Naomi Osaka cited a reluctance to do media appearances as a reason why she withdrew from the French Open in 2021. The response? She was hounded and perceived to be weak, further setting back her recovery. Sports press can be brutal and un-compassionate, and athletes know that.
But to bring it back to just a soccer issue, Davies has just played the biggest international game of his life, scored his country’s first-ever goal at a (mens) World Cup, and has just lost 4-1, coupled with a 1-0 loss to Belgium in which he missed a penalty, meant Canada was the second team in the World Cup to be officially eliminated. I don’t blame him for not being in the mood for talking if he didn’t have to, because I can’t argue anyone would want to.
S. 2 Ep. 21: Canada Doing What Canada Does – FC13 Podcast
So that’s the first issue, traditional media outlets are upset that Davies didn’t talk to them, but ultimately Davies, owes them nothing, and it’s his prerogative. But if that was all the issue was, this article wouldn’t have been written.
As mentioned, the article implies that Davies is becoming ‘a diva’, a player with ‘an ego’, the type of accusations that are only made about athletes that meet let’s say… a particular physical description. The article makes mention of Davies owning diamond earnings that summarise just how rich he is and implies that he is in some way out of touch and egocentric.
We’ve seen this rhetoric before in England with Raheem Sterling. For years, Sterling was hounded by the English media for living the lifestyle of a young footballer who came from a poor background, and is now enjoying the rewards of his efforts. Sterling is the most high-profile example of how the English media treat certain players versus other players, a fact that Sterling has even alluded to on Twitter.
Rhetoric such as Davies’ earrings is irrelevant, dangerous, and toxic. It has absolutely nothing to do with Davies’ football ability or his status of being a good teammate/ambassador for Canada. For what it’s worth, Davies has played for Canada against opposition as lowly as Cuba, Bermuda, Cayman Islands, St. Kitts/Nevis, and Aruba, all while he was at Bayern Munich, and in a lot of instances, he could’ve used COVID-19 as a valid excuse not to play in those games. Indeed, he has never once said no to his country.
The article makes the assumption that Davies’ ego played a part in the penalty being missed against Belgium, a miss that proved crucial as it effectively knocked Canada out of the World Cup. Davies said he felt confident, and you always want confident players taking a penalty. There was no on-field argument, and no huffs taken. The players wanted Davies to take the penalty at that moment, and if he scored, it would’ve been a moment as iconic as the one against Croatia on Sunday.
Those who were quick to lambast Davies for missing would’ve been the first in line to hail the narrative of Canada’s prodigal son breaking the men’s team’s scoring duck at the FIFA World Cup, just like they did when Davies scored against Croatia. It’s also quite ridiculous. Do you think Argentine media is blaming Messi’s celebrity status for why Argentina missed a penalty against Poland?
The accusations of Davies being on a power trip don’t stop there, and again, they’re nonsensical.
Just before the World Cup, Alphonso Davies suffered an injury for Bayern Munich against Hertha Berlin, and his World Cup campaign hung precariously in the balance. Thankfully, the diagnosis was he would be out for Bayern’s immediate fixtures, but would be able to play in the World Cup, much to the relief of millions of Canadians and soccer fans worldwide, although he did require further medical treatment with Bayern.
Bayern Munich is amongst Europe’s elite, a global brand that has access to the most up-to-date and top-class sports medical facilities in the world. Having Davies rehab in Munich as long as possible is advantageous to Canada, but oh no, not according to this article! The article takes the approach that Davies being able to receive superior treatment is a bad thing, as if Davies thinks he’s too good to use Canadian Soccer medical facilities, which given that he was already in Munich and it’s more convenient to treat the injury on site, makes no logistical sense. It also makes reference to Davies being the only Canadian player to get an escort and that he arrived late to Qatar. It would’ve taken the bare minimum of attention to realize that Davies showed up late to Qatar because he was recovering from an injury, even as late as the day before the Belgium game his status for the game was up in the air.
There is also the issue of Davies negotiating his own jersey sales rights, an issue that along with the CSA and player negotiations, is playing out in real-time and we do not know at this point what effect it will have on other players, making it somewhat difficult admittedly to talk about. The fractured relationship between the CSA and the players has been clear to see since the summer, and it’s not Davies’ fault that the CSA has mismanaged itself in recent years. I don’t blame him for trying to secure himself the best possible deal, but also set a precedent for his teammates. If the Davies deal opens the doors for players to get jersey sale royalties going forward, then as far as I’m concerned, it is the ultimate example of him using his star power to be a team player (although there is no doubt in my mind he is a team player, there is absolutely no sufficient evidence to suggest otherwise).
Personal attacks like this on Alphonso Davies are absolutely uncalled for, and only serve to set Canada back in the quest to become a ‘soccer nation’. Davies is not immune to criticism, no player is, and that’s not what this is about, this is about fair and just criticism, not thinly veiled tantrums shrouded in ignorance.
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