Two years ago, I texted a former teammate, then with the Vancouver Whitecaps, to catch up. He sent me pictures of his new son; I made him feel jealous about life as a bachelor. Eventually the conversation moved to soccer, as it always does when old teammates chat.
We caught up on all things MLS. Can you believe what the Rapids are doing? You think Dallas has a chance without Fabian Castillo?
I asked about life with the ‘Caps, what he thought of the squad. His voice took on new energy:
— This 15 year old is for real, dude.
— The 15 year old we just signed out of the Academy. Alphonso Davies.”
— Do you know how many times I’ve heard "this 15 year old is the real deal?"
— I know, but seriously. When we play 6-v-6 at the end of practice, he’s the best player. He’s the one that everyone wants on his team.
— He’s better than all of them, Bobby.
I maintained my skepticism but tucked the story into my memory.
On Wednesday, that 15-year-old was transferred to Bayern Munich in a record-breaking deal.
The news feels like a perfectly natural move for Davies at this point. Anyone who’s watched the Whitecaps or Davies in the last year-and-a-half has picked up what the Whitecaps players saw back in 2016.
He can be downright unstoppable.
It’s huge news for Davies — I can’t imagine what it’s like going to bed the night after Bayern Munich has made a bid for you — the Whitecaps organization and the league as a whole. It’s the biggest outgoing transfer in league history, on multiple metrics.
The job isn’t done for Davies. Yes, it’s an amazing opportunity. But Bayern signs a lot of players. Remember Renato Sanches? He stood out at Euro 2016 and then moved to Bayern and a lot of people thought he’d be the next dominant midfielder in Europe. A year later he was struggling to get minutes at Swansea City.
Norwegian attacker Martin Odegaard was the last 15-year-old wonderkid available in the world market. He too decided to vault straight to the top and picked Real Madrid. Odegaard has made only one appearance with the Spanish giants in three years and played last season on loan in the Eredivisie with Heerenveen.
Clubs like Bayern and Real often work like venture capital firms; they acquire lots of high-quality assets and hope for one to be a gold mine.
This shouldn’t pour cold water on Davies’ move; it should only provide perspective. The initial idea of Bayern provides a thrill, but everything starts over when he gets there. Bayern are signing Davies for his potential, not his present ability. Davies is good, but he’s not Bayern good, yet. Bayern starts guys that are top-20 in the world at their positions. Davies has shown he might be able to get to that level, but he still needs to bridge the potential to the Bayern good gap.
I’m interested, first, about what Bayern plans to do with Davies’. In the immediate future, Davies will stay with the ‘Caps until the end of the 2018 MLS season. What happens after that?
It would be tough for Davies to get minutes in Bayern’s first team right now. The Bundesliga champions have Arjen Robben, Franck Ribery, Kingsley Coman, Thomas Muller and James Rodriguez as options at winger for the upcoming season. It doesn’t get much easier at left back or center mid, either. It’s not to say Davies can’t beat them out, but I wouldn’t necessarily bet on it.
If Davies isn’t ready to play at Bayern yet, then how do they get him ready to play? Will they loan him out? To what kind of club?
It will also be interesting to see where European clubs decide to play Davies. He’s spent time at left winger, left back and left wing back in 2018. I could also see a coach deciding he’s a marauding center midfielder in the Blaise Matuidi-mold.
I suspect Davies’ position and ultimate ceiling depend on two areas of his game, and how well he develops them.
First, he will need to improve his execution around the goal. This is somewhat of a blanket statement that’s true for all young attackers who move to big clubs. The biggest difference between Davies and Ribery won’t be creating chances, but making the final action to finish them.
Davies has already made huge strides within the last year in his comfort around goal. A year ago he would often settle for mediocre crosses from wide areas; now he has the ability to beat defenders toward goal and the composure to pick up his head to find teammates. If he continues on his current trajectory, he should be in good shape on this one.
Second, he will need to get more comfortable in possession in the middle third. The Whitecaps haven’t tried to possess the ball much in Davies’ time in Vancouver. They’ve primarily been a counterattacking team. Davies’ ability in open space is undeniable, but it’s tough to gauge how good he is/can be in possession. He will need to show he’s capable of receiving the ball and connecting passes in tight spaces in the middle of the field. If teammate’s can’t trust him with possession in tough spots, then he might be better suited to play left back.
Overall, Davies’ move to Bayern is exciting. It’s a huge success for the Whitecaps, developing a player in their academy and moving him to one of the biggest clubs in the world. It’s a big statement for MLS to have Bayern come calling.
For Davies, I’m nervous about a 17-year-old moving to such a big club. Young players need to play. But I also wouldn’t expect anyone to turn down Bayern Munich. And I applaud Davies’ willingness to take on the biggest challenge.
Davies has been nothing but breathtaking in his time in MLS. He’s annihilated anyone who’s tried to stand in his way. I’m not about to bet against him now.