Alphonso Davies joined Bayern Munich with 'next Arjen Robben' billing, but could the Canadian teenager’s long-term future lie in the David Alaba role at left-back? bundesliga.com makes a case for the defence…
These are happy days for the 18-year-old super prospect affectionately known as 'Phonzie'.
Five have come in his more accustomed role as a winger - four on the left, one on the right - while his most notable cameo was on the left-hand side of the back four, as a second-half replacement for Alaba in the 6-0 hiding of Mainz on Bundesliga Matchday 26.
Watch: Alphonso Davies' first impressions of Bayern
It took just 11 minutes and one effort on goal for Davies to make his mark. Sending a first-time volley on his "weaker" right side into the roof of the net after Mainz goalkeeper Florian Müller could only parry from Robert Lewandowski, the Great White North's most exciting soccer export duly became Bayern’s first scorer born in the 2000s and the club’s youngest in almost 20 years - but his historic strike was not the only promising feature of his 35-minute vignette.
As well as poacher’s instinct and positional awareness, Davies exhibited pace, malleability, defensive resolve and confidence in possession – all hallmarks of any modern wing-back worth his salt.
"Davies possesses qualities that you rarely see in the Bundesliga - he’s certainly one of the fastest players I’ve ever seen, maybe even the quickest," commented Bayern sporting director Hasan Salihamidzic after the game.
"Davies can play anywhere the coach wants him to. He's not only one for the future, but one for the here and now - he's a real diamond."
Effusive words stemming from a tactical manoeuvre on the part of Bayern head coach Niko Kovac that may prove to carry greater prophetic significance than the Edmonton native’s milestone goal, even if Davies the left-back is not an entirely new concept.
The Canada international has lined up in defence in his last three outings for the national team, providing four assists; he enjoyed a 30-minute run-out in the position in the 2018 MLS All-Star game against Italian giants Juventus; and was frequently asked to drop deep by Whitecaps strategist Carl Robinson. The Mainz game just happened to underscore why.
"[Left back] is definitely something Phonzie can do," explained Whitecaps and Canada centre-back Doneil Henry to The Province of the multi-faceted Davies.
Watch: Davies scored his first Bayern goal against Mainz
"With the pace and the skill set that he has, he could be like any other attacking full-back. You can see it in [Canada’s] Marcel de Jong, you can see it in [Paris Saint-Germain’s] Dani Alves — these guys were wingers before. It’s not that it takes away from their game, because you still see them bombing up the pitch.
"But that’s the modern-day full-back. You’re basically an attacking winger.
"Is it killing Phonzie’s game? Not at all. He’s learning a position. He’s understanding the movements of a full-back, so that when he’s playing as a winger, he understands what he needs to do.
"You have to see it from both sides and you have to understand, with a skill set as wide as Phonzie’s, wherever he is, he’s going to be a danger.
"The great thing about it is Phonzie is able to play positions that could potentially be his best position — he just doesn’t know it yet."
Where better for Davies to uncover his true calling than at 28-time Bundesliga champions Bayern, whose fail-safe guide to parenting has fostered some of the German top tier's most revered talents?
Alaba, for one, was a central midfielder in his early days at Säbener Straße, before former coach Louis van Gaal had the foresight to refashion the Austrian as a left-back – latterly the world’s best in the position.
"Even if he thinks differently, he is a left-back," van Gaal said after calling up the then 17-year-old from the reserves and playing him at left-back in a Bundesliga win over Freiburg in March 2010. "He’s not good, he’s very good."
Van Gaal’s invention – he was also responsible for turning Bastian Schweinsteiger from a mercurial winger into a FIFA World Cup-winning central midfielder – clearly rubbed off on Pep Guardiola, who had played under the Dutchman at Barcelona (1997-2000).
The Catalan installed Alaba in central defence during his three-year spell at the Bayern helm between 2013 and 2016, and used his unconventional wisdom to convert Joshua Kimmich – a player he reportedly cherry-picked from then Bundesliga 2 outfit RB Leipzig – from a midfielder into a centre-half.
It was the start of a very special journey for Kimmich, whose chameleon-like qualities have since seen him inherit the mantle of Philipp Lahm at right-back – a role he has performed on a regular basis for Bayern since 2017, and at two major tournaments in the colours of Germany.
Like Alaba, the 24-year-old is now regarded as a paragon in his position - so could Davies be the next forward-thinking Bayern youngster to make the switch to world-beating wing-back?
In a word, yes. Davies has the pace to join the attack, the technical ability to tie opposition players in knots and the instinct to create overloads in the final third; while his speed, married with his willingness to recover his position and make tackles, is of equal importance defensively.
Although Davies is a left-footed winger by trade with more than a hint of departed club legend Robben about his game, stationing 'Kid Canada' at left-back doesn't have to blunt his influence offensively or hamper his prospects of bolting down regular minutes for the record champions. It might just enhance them.
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