NEW YORK CITY — On a frigid December day, the Red Bull office in Chelsea might just be the epicenter of cool in Gotham for a few hours. On the premises is Tyler “Ninja” Blevins, the eSports superstar and Fortnite exemplar who’s also the answer to the question: Name someone your children follow religiously whom you’ve never heard of. Also on the scene is an 18-year-old who’s giddy to meet Ninja—and who may be about to break out in a big way himself in the soccer world.
Earlier in the morning, Bayern Munich drew Liverpool in the UEFA Champions League round of 16, and now Alphonso Davies—the former Vancouver Whitecaps winger who was sold to Bayern for an MLS-record $16 million in July—is getting used to the idea that he’s a Bayern Munich player affected by that draw.
“I woke up and checked my phone and saw that we drew Liverpool, and I got a big smile on my face, because a friend of mine actually plays in their academy,” Davies says in an interview. “He messaged me, so I’m excited about it and looking forward to the matches.”
Bayern meets Hoffenheim Friday in its first Bundesliga game following the winter break, and there are plenty of questions about how much playing time the electric Davies will get. But he has already had one viral Internet moment—an outrageous nutmeg in last week’s Telekom Cup—and he says the star-studded squad has been welcoming since he started training with the team in November.
“On my second day there, I spoke to Kingsley Coman,” Davies says. “We were sitting down eating breakfast face to face, and he told me that when we train don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Because it happens, but when you make that mistake, try and get the ball back as quickly as possible, and don’t be afraid to try and do things to express yourself on the team.”
Davies has been taking German classes since November, and he has been undergoing an immersion on the training field as well with teammates he used to see only while controlling them in video games. From his first Bayern practice session, he says, “I experienced that the ball is the most important thing. When you have the ball, the other team really can’t do anything. That’s the model of the team: To try and keep the ball and try to break the team down and weave the ball side to side and end up with a cross or finish. The speed of the ball moves at some incredible levels.”
Davies’ journey to joining Bayern Munich is an inspiring one. He was born in 2000 in a refugee camp in Ghana to Liberian parents, Victoria and Debeah, who had fled Liberia during a time of war. The family moved as refugees to Windsor, Ontario, when Davies was 5. He says he remembers nothing about his life before Canada, but he has a clear memory of seeing snow for the first time. The family moved a year later to Edmonton, where Davies developed in soccer at an astonishing rate.
“I’m very grateful for everything they’ve gone through to bring their family to a safe environment and for their kids to have opportunities to be something in the world,” Davies says.
Davies joined the Vancouver Whitecaps youth academy at age 14 and made his MLS debut in July 2016 at age 15, becoming the second-youngest player in MLS history behind Freddy Adu. In hindsight, Davies still marvels at his quick progression, and he smiles when he thinks back to his mother’s reservations about him moving at 14.
“When I signed for Vancouver, it was funny because my mom didn’t really want me to move away,” he says. “She was concerned about all my schooling. But when she let me go [to Vancouver] I was over the moon. I just wanted to make her proud. Every day that I go to training I remember that, and that motivates me to play at the top level I’m able to play.”
In the summer of 2017, Davies got his Canadian citizenship and made his debut right after that for Canada’s senior team in the Concacaf Gold Cup. He remembers the nerves that he had ahead of the citizenship test.
“I was told I had to take a test, and I was like, ‘Oh, this is like social studies class all over again,’” he says. “So when I went into the test I was nervous, because I didn’t know if I would pass or fail. So I did the test and handed it in, and the lady came back with a big smile on her face. I said, ‘What happened?’ And she said, ‘You got 19 out of 20. You killed it.’ It was big sigh of relief.”
The last time Canada reached a men’s World Cup was in 1986. And while the Canadians are almost certain to get an automatic berth in World Cup 2026 as a co-host, Davies thinks his team is capable of earning a spot at World Cup ’22 under coach John Herdman.
“He’s a fantastic coach,” Davies says. “When he first came in, the boys really liked him, and now he’s changing the identity of Canadian men’s football. You can see us coming together as a team. We’re all locked in on the 2022 campaign, because we really think Canada has amazing talent.”
Davies is clearly at the top of that list of skilled players. And while his German adventure is only beginning, it’s worth remembering: He just turned 18 and had his braces removed. He’s only still in the process of becoming a man.