Alphonso Davies has won over hearts with strong performances and his unique sense of humour. The 19-year-old is cool, young, fresh – but also has a serious side. In an interview with FC Bayern’s official club magazine, 51″ he explains how he wants to be an inspiration for those who are not doing so well in life.
Alphonso, you were in top form until the break because of the coronavirus and had been in the starting XI since Matchday 9. Were you sad, angry or upset about the break?
I was actually a bit upset because I was on a really good run. I really enjoyed performing for this great team and I felt like I was well on the way to securing a regular spot. But in sport it’s not always about regretting a moment, it’s about consistently creating new moments. I’ll do everything I can to just pick up from where I left off before the break.
It’s easy to see through your social media posts that you’re a guy who always tries to make the best of every situation. Where does that come from?
I’ve always been like that, it’s in my character. Life is too short to be angry or sad for long. I think it runs in my family. We went through tough times when I was very young and I’m so infinitely grateful to my parents. Their journey began during the civil war in Liberia, and we came to Canada via Ghana. I’m in the happy situation where I can say I can enjoy every single day of my life.
Not everyone can say that about themselves.
Yes, I’m afraid that’s true. And that’s why you just have to be grateful because there are lots of people in the world who aren’t so well off. I know that there are other sides to life. All the more reason why I now try to convey to the people out there how important it is to feel a sense of joy. I try to do that on the soccer pitch and also off it, and that includes in a few video clips.
You said the other day that you would like to become an actor after your football career. Is there a role that you would like to play at the moment?
(thinking) There are some – one of the Avengers maybe? Why not? (laughs)
Which one of the superheroes would it be?
(laughs) Probably Black Panther. That would suit me best – people say I’m pretty fast. Yeah, that would be a cool role. I’d like that. I used to watch a lot of ‘The Fresh Prince of Bel Air’, I thought Will Smith was great. I also like ‘Rush Hour’, which is one of my favourite films. It’d be cool to play a part in that too.
You were lauded for your performance of Whitney Houston’s ‘I Will Always Love You’ as your initiation song at Bayern – not everyone would dare to do that. Is there a large dose of self-confidence behind doing all your video clips or performing a vocal number like that?
Yeah, maybe. You do need a little bit of courage. But the truth is I don’t think about it too much. For example, ‘I Will Always Love You’ was a spontaneous idea, and my videos on social media are usually simple ideas that come to me while I’m lying on the couch. I think it makes things easier if you don’t take yourself too seriously. With us footballers, it’s very similar to being an entertainer. You have to prepare yourself as well as possible to entertain your audience. But you have no guarantee in advance. So, a certain amount of self-confidence certainly doesn’t hurt. I think a mixture is good. Believe in yourself and don’t drive yourself too mad.
To make your way in competitive sports, it’s not enough to be cheerful and carefree. There’s obviously another side to Alphonso Davies behind all these videos. A focused, serious, ambitious one.
Definitely. Otherwise, none of this would work. With my first step onto the training ground at Säbener
Straße or into the Allianz Arena, even when getting on the team bus for example, I switch on. Then it’s all about being focused. I’m aware that lots of people look up to us players, including me. Of course, I’m still young, almost a teenager, but I know when I need to seriously pursue my goals and when it’s time to relax. It’s always been my dream to play soccer for a club like Bayern, against the best in the world. I won’t let up a single day. Never.
At the age of 10 you had to look after your younger siblings because your parents worked in shifts. Does your attitude also come from the fact that you had to grow up faster than others?
You’ll move from big brother to the adult world faster by cooking food for your younger siblings while your peers are playing video games. My dad had to go to work at 4am and got back around 2pm. My mum worked from 10pm to 8am. Every day before I went to school, I’d already looked after my siblings. In the evenings I often put them to bed. It was a hard time, but at the same time we were doing very well. We were happy. My family is everything for me.
And you made your way in spite of all the difficulties. Are you aware that you are a role model for lots of children around the world who are not so well off?
I want to be an inspiration to lots and lots of children. We came to Canada as refugees from Africa and worked hard for everything we have. I think my life can show people that a lot is possible if you stay true to yourself and don’t let yourself be led astray. When children all over the world see me playing and hear the story behind it, it’s nice to imagine them drawing motivation from it and developing the courage to work on their own dreams as well.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic said early on about you after your first appearances in the MLS that you would become a very interesting player.
That was after a game with the Vancouver Whitecaps against LA Galaxy. The fact that he said that still brings a smile to my face. Ibrahimovic is one of the best players in the world, and also a guy. Zlatan is Zlatan. If someone like that says something good about you, you immediately feel a few centimetres taller.
Is it true that as a child in Canada you were rather shy and didn’t feel confident enough to speak to others? It was only on the football pitch that you didn’t shy away from contact…
Yeah, that’s right. We came from Ghana, I didn’t know the language very well at first and was afraid to speak. At that time, I wasn’t very confident. Football helped me enormously there. On the pitch, I quickly bonded with the other children and so was able to overcome my initial shyness pretty quickly.
You didn’t even have proper football boots the first time you trained at a club.
(laughs) Yeah, I wore regular running shoes. A friend told me to come to his club’s training because he was sure I’d enjoy it. When the session was over, the coach came up to me and said: “Congratulations, this is your team from now on!” That was so exciting for me! The guys had all known each other for so long, and suddenly I became part of it. It meant an awful lot to me.
And things moved very fast after that. At the age of 15 you’d already moved from Edmonton to Vancouver to take the next step. Your mum wasn’t thrilled.
She had seen on TV how teenagers can go off the rails. Vancouver was far away, we didn’t know exactly what would happen. But the people from the academy there said they would be on their guard. As soon as your performance in school dips, you’re not allowed to go to training and so on. Mum was then convinced.
But also because of a big promise you made…
Yeah, right. I promised her I’d stay a good boy, that I’d always keep both feet on the ground and never forget where I came from.
Was that a promise for life?
Yes. It’s a big, important promise, and it’s going to last my whole life. And if I ever have children, I’ll make them promise the same to me (smiles).
Your father likes to make fun of you every now and then. Is that to keep your feet on the ground?
(laughs) He does that well, yes. When I told him on the phone about my first goal for Bayern, he said: “Oh, really? You play for Bayern now?” That’s how he is, he’s always like that. Like I said, I think it’s important not to take yourself too seriously.
And the first FCB shirt you sent him wasn’t even yours, but Arjen Robben’s. Why?
When I used to sit in front of the TV with my dad, Arjen was one of those great players who sprinted along the touchline, with so much speed, so much power – we were so excited. It was a huge honour to suddenly be playing in a team alongside him. And I still have a lot to achieve if I want my shirt to one day have the same relevance as his. But in the meantime, dad has a few of my shirts as well.
What did you know about FC Bayern before they made the offer for you?
I knew the club from television and video games and knew that it was one of the biggest clubs in the world. When I heard that Bayern wanted to sign me, I immediately had all the YouTube videos of the stars there in my head and I just thought: “This is top level stuff – and you’re supposed to join them?” I couldn’t believe it.
Did you know anything about the history, did you know Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, Uli Hoeneß, Oliver Kahn?
I knew Kahn. On YouTube. There were a few… Can I say this? Crazy scenes. He really gave his all on the pitch for Bayern, I’m certain of that. I’ve met him here now, it was a great honour. And unlike in the YouTube videos, he was now very calm, very cool. But you can still sense his mentality today, always wanting to win everything.
That’s the special DNA in the club…
Yeah, I know, Mia san mia. That’s what I learned right away in the first weeks here. And it’s true what you hear even before you arrive here, that there’s something very family-oriented about Bayern. It’s a very good club, especially for young players. You’re given a great welcome, everyone takes care of you with incredible warmth, and at the same time you’re always pushed to perform to the limit in every single training session on the pitch. Mia san mia is something that I’ve taken to my heart because I can fully identify with it. It’s in me.
How’s your German?
(in German, laughing) Oh, my German is very good. I study it every day. Some words are difficult: Schiedsrichter (referees), for example. I already understand a lot, but speaking it is still difficult.
And what about your Bavarian – your nickname Phonzie is already typically Bavarian.
(laughs) Yes, Alfons Schuhbeck told me that. Funny guy. He told me that’s his name too, and that I should stay with Bayern forever. In Bavarian I can say: “I bin’s da Phonzie” (“It’s me, Phonzie”).
Are you also teaching Bavarian to your girlfriend Jordan? She’s a footballer herself with Paris Saint- Germain – would it be a dream if she were to also sign for FC Bayern?
(laughs) Oh, yes, of course that would be a dream. I’ll have to ask Karl-Heinz Rummenigge if that’s possible. In my eyes that would be a very good idea. But she’s very happy in Paris, so that’s fine too.
FC Bayern fans traditionally take some of the stars from abroad particularly to heart: Sammy Kuffour became a fan favourite, as did Willy Sagnol and Franck Ribery. Are you aware that you’re well on the way to being included in this line-up?
I’m very happy with the way the fans have welcomed me here. And I’m happy if I can reciprocate this affection with my performances. We play football to thrill the fans. That’s what it’s all about. For example,
when I take the ball off an opposing striker after a sprint and a murmur like that goes around the stadium, that inspires me. Magic moments. I’ll do everything I can to become one of those players that fans will remember for a long time to come.