Bayern Munich star Alphonso Davies, who shone on soccer’s biggest stages in 2020, has been voted winner of the Lionel Conacher Award as The Canadian Press male athlete of the year.
Davies, who turned 20 on Nov. 2, won worldwide praise for his pace and athleticism at left fullback while helping Bayern fill its trophy case. Davies and the German powerhouse captured the Champions League, Bundesliga title, DFB Cup and UEFA Super Cup in 2020.
Individually the Canadian was named Bundesliga rookie of the season for 2019-20 and was voted to the FIFPRO Best 11 by his peers, becoming the first North American to make the men’s all-star squad. He is the third-youngest player to earn men’s World 11 status behind Dutch defender Matthijs de Ligt and French forward Kylian Mbappe.
“It’s been a fantastic year for Alphonso,” said Canada coach John Herdman. “He’s flown the flag for Canada, he’s been a real bright spot on the sporting landscape in a time where we really needed some bright spots.
“And the awards are thoroughly deserved. He’s doing things at the highest level in the world game … And he’s Canadian, he’s from Edmonton. I think for all of us, it’s just something we can be proud of. And for those young players, it’s that reminder that anything’s possible, anything’s possible for a Canadian.”
Davies received 35 of 67 votes by sports editors, writers, broadcasters across the country.
“A Canadian at the pinnacle of world soccer? It doesn’t get much easier (of a pick) than that,” said Hamilton Spectator sports editor Jeff Day.
“Less than two years after last suiting up for the Vancouver Whitecaps, Alphonso Davies showed his talents on the global stage in the world’s most popular sport, eviscerating the Barcelona defence at one point in the quarterfinal as Bayern Munich stormed to a Champions League victory to complete a historic treble,” said Paul Attfield, sports reporter for the Globe and Mail.
Davies is the first soccer player to win the Conacher Award, joining such Canadian sporting icons as Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Gordie Howe, Donovan Bailey and Ferguson Jenkins.
“A lot of great Canadian athletes have won it, so it’s an honour to be the first soccer player to do so,” Davies told The Canadian Press via email.
Kansas City Chiefs lineman Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, who won the Super Bowl in February before opting out of the 2020 NFL season after working in a long-term care facility in his home province at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic’s first wave, was second with 25 votes. Denver Nuggets guard Jamal Murray was the only other with multiple votes (three).
The choice of Davies completed a soccer sweep among the CP individual sports awards. On Monday, Canada captain Christine Sinclair won the Bobbie Rosenfeld Award as the top Canadian female athlete. She also won in 2012, after leading Canada to Olympic bronze at the London Games.
The team of the year will be unveiled Wednesday.
Sinclair, a 37-year-old from Burnaby, B.C., has long been the face of Canadian soccer. Davies has joined her in rapid-fire fashion.
Herdman says Davies and Sinclair share more than just soccer skills.
“The one character trait that I’ve seen from both of them is a level of humility,” said Herdman. “But when they’re on the field, they are fierce, fierce custodians of this shirt and patriots of this country. You see that in their effort, in their desire to win and the passion they play with.”
It is to Davies’ credit that he has reached such heights on the field during such a difficult year.
“It hasn’t always been easy this year, not just for me, but for many people out there,” Davies said. “A lot of people are in much tougher situations than me and I am very fortunate to be where I am, so I try to remember that and stay humble whenever things feel tough.
“Playing soccer has always been an outlet for me, so being able to train and compete really helped, and I hope everything we accomplished at Bayern helped bring some joy into people’s lives.”
Davies was also voted Canada Soccer’s Men’s Player of the Year and was co-winner with Duvernay-Tardif of the Lou Marsh Trophy, presented by the Toronto Star to the Canadian athlete of the year.
Davies turned heads in late February in Champions League action at Chelsea when he set up Bayern’s third goal with a lightning run down the left flank and cross to Robert Lewandowski for a tap-in in the 76th minute and a 3-0 win in the first leg of a round-of-16 showdown.
“Alphonso Davies is a world-class left back,” former U.S. international and current TV pundit Stuart Holden said on social media. “Top five in world soccer right now easy.”
In June, Davies was clocked at 36.51 km/h in the first half of a win over Werder Bremen, according to the Bundesliga. That erased the fastest recorded speed in league history (36.19 km/h by Dortmund’s Achraf Hakimi) since detailed data collection began in 2011.
Veteran Bayern forward Thomas Mueller dubbed Davies “the FC Bayern Road Runner,” referencing the speedy cartoon character.
In August, Davies stood out again in Bayern’s 8-2 beatdown of Barcelona in Champions League play in Lisbon. Davies set up Bayern’s fifth goal in the 63rd minute with a sensational run down the left flank.
The Canadian known as Phonzie eluded three Barca players, leaving Portuguese international Nelson Semedo in his wake before racing past several more defenders into the penalty box and sending a perfect pass to Joshua Kimmich to slot in from close range.
“`Best left back in the world!” tweeted Canadian international Ashley Lawrence.
With a winning smile and playful way about him, Davies has won a legion of fans on social media with 3.3 million followers on Instagram, three million on TikTok and 239,300 on Twitter.
Bayern rewarded Davies in April with a contract extension that runs through June 2025.
“Alphonso Davies is a player who has already achieved a high level of performance at a young age and at the same time still has great potential for development,” said Oliver Kahn, an executive board member and former star goalkeeper at Bayern. “Anyone who can consistently play at the top level at FC Bayern at such a young age can have a great career ahead of them.”
Davies is also a key player for Canada with five goals and seven assists in 17 appearances, playing both as a left back and winger.
Canada and Davies face a full schedule in 2021 with World Cup qualifying finally starting in March.
Davies says he is excited at what lies ahead for Canada.
“We have a lot of young, exciting talent coming through, players are playing in competitive leagues who are hungry,” he said. “And we are all ready to make history for Canada Soccer in 2021.”
Herdman is also looking forward to the future for Davies.
“We’re all proud of what he’s achieved this year. But I think we can see there’s still more to come. And that consistency now is probably Alphonso’s next big challenge. Can he repeat and can he take it to the next level?”
Davies was signed by Bayern from the Vancouver Whitecaps in the summer of 2018 in a US$22-million transfer deal, an MLS record at the time. He started to train with his new team in November after the end of the Whitecaps season.
Davies’ life story is inspirational. His parents fled their home in Monrovia, Liberia, to escape a civil war, ending up at a refugee camp in Ghana where Davies was born.
He came to Canada at the age of five.
Davies shared his story at the FIFA Congress in Moscow in June 2018 as part of the joint North American bid to host the 2026 World Cup. Canadian soccer officials credit his powerful presentation for helping push the bid over the finish line.
“It was a hard life. But when I was five years old, a country called Canada welcomed us in,” he told FIFA delegates.
It was not all roses for Davies in 2020. He tore ankle ligaments Oct. 24 in Bayern’s 5-0 win over Eintracht Frankfurt, returning to action Dec. 9 in Champions League group play against Lokomotiv Moscow.
Davies and Canadian women’s international Jordyn Huitema, who are a couple away from the pitch, had to endure racism. A photo of Davies, who is Black, and Huitema, who is white, on Instagram while enjoying a vacation in Spain drew more than 14,000 comments including some that were offensive.
Canada Soccer, Herdman, Canada women’s coach Bev Priestman and Bayern president Herbert Hainer all spoke out against the racism.
Away from the field, Davies has used his name to help the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), a UN agency with the mandate to protect and help refugees.
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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 29, 2020
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press