EDMONTON – All over Edmonton, red flags are flying three at a time.
In one, the hometown boy is backed by his teammates. In another, he is alone, serious, with his arms crossed over his chest. He puts a fierce screaming face on the third, his fist clenched in celebration.
Flags flutter in the wind, bright against typical gray November weather, along the main provincial highway leading out of the airport, at various intersections amid the city’s vast urban sprawl, outside Commonwealth Stadium, where about 50,000 people gathered on Friday to welcome him home. .
Alphonso Davies is back: the international soccer star, the leader of a Canadian men’s team with a legitimate chance of reaching the next World Cup, the local boy who was born in a refugee camp in Ghana after his parents fled of the civil war in Liberia.
And those in the city and the soccer community who played such an important role in making Edmonton feel like home to Davies were clamoring to embrace him again.
“He has become a legend,” said Adrian Newman, executive director of the Edmonton Soccer Association.
Anything for Alphonso, said Sheldon Oleksyn, CEO of Sport Central, an Alberta-based charity that has provided young people, including Davies, with free sports equipment since 1991.
“He is such an honored young man and we are all so proud of him that it is almost unbelievable, the circumstances and how things have developed.”
Davies left Edmonton when he was 14 years old and moved to Burnaby, BC, to join the Vancouver Whitecaps residency program.
Now 21, he returns as a three-time Bundesliga winner, a two-time German Cup champion, and a winner of both the Champions League and the FIFA Club World Cup, all following his record transfer of $ 22 million to Bayern Munich from Vancouver in 2018. He was the Bundesliga rookie of the year in 2019-20 and was a co-winner of the Lou Marsh award, given to Canada’s best athlete, last December.
Davies is putting men’s soccer back on the map in this country, drawing addition after addition to the Canadian train with great performances, such as an incredible individual effort last month against Panama that helped ensure his national team remained undefeated in its first six. games in the course. last round of qualifiers for the World Cup in the CONCACAF region.
Still, he’s still an Edmonton kid at his core, one who was delighted to hug his parents, who hadn’t seen him perform live since his Vancouver days when he came to town earlier this week and that ” he really enjoys “going to the West Edmonton store.
“The city where I grew up, where I started to play my soccer,” he said this week. “The city will always have a part of my heart, wherever I go in the world. Being on the field, at Bayern Munich, with Canada, I am just a boy who plays football, I enjoy something that I love and I do it at the highest level ”.
Despite everything that has changed for Davies since he last played at Edmonton, the fact that he hasn’t changed that much in him could be the key to his success. His time at Bayern Munich has given Davies a level of authority when it comes to shaping a winning mentality within the Canadian field, his words building confidence that anything is possible for the team. Outside of that, coach John Herdman wouldn’t want to see a massive change in Davies.
“He’s obviously matured and he’s had some wonderful experiences that I’m sure have shaped him, but I really feel like he’s kept his identity,” Herdman said. “He is that boy at heart. When he’s in the environment, he’s playful, he’s fun. “
That became clear this week as Canada prepared to face Costa Rica on Friday and Mexico on Tuesday night. Davies smiled, laughed, joked, and made fun of his teammates. His enthusiasm for being back was obvious.
“I mean, who wouldn’t be?” Herdman said. “It’s a children’s dream, right? Commonwealth Stadium, 50,000 people here, his family, all his friends. What a time for a child. And well deserved, because our sport stood out … so it has its moment. ”
When Davies was growing up, he didn’t have an idol on the men’s national team.
“They really didn’t make it interesting for people to see,” he said candidly last week.
That has changed for kids today, with Davies leading the charge among a talented core of young Canadian teammates. He’s comfortable with the paper, as comfortable as he can get with his face waving flags all over the city. In any city, really, because he’s not just Edmonton’s main draw.
But Davies’s connection to Edmonton, like the city to him, is clear. And while the stage he’s playing on now is much bigger, Davies hoped that once the whistle blew, the moment would feel a lot like old times.
“It will just feel like I’m back on the football field with the Edmonton Strikers, just having fun with some friends.”
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