Copa America | Alphonso Davies, from refugee to captain of Canada

(Atlanta) The Liberian refugee who will wear the captain’s armband for Canada in front of the best team in the world. This unusual new chapter in the inspiring story of Alphonso Davies will be written this Thursday, in Atlanta, as the curtain-raiser to the Copa América.


Posted at 3:22 p.m.

The official announcement of Alphonso Davies’ captaincy was made by the federation on Monday, ahead of the clash at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium. It was in this grandiose 71,000-seat enclosure that the press conference the day before the match took place, and where Davies was able to comment on the news.

“As you know, I arrived in Canada when I was 5 years old,” he said, in front of the many members of the international media gathered in the press room. They welcomed me, they made me one of their own. I like this country. »

Davies has been around the Canadian senior team since 2017. In the meantime, thanks to his transfer to Bayern Munich in 2019, he has stood out as one of the best left backs in the world. With all this, we forget that he is only 23 years old, and that he is still one of the youngest players on this team.

Despite everything, his coach Jesse Marsch believes that he is “equipped with many of the qualities that will make him one of the greatest leaders, and certainly the most important player from now until [la Coupe du monde de] 2026”.

“We don’t expect it to be perfect right now. Captains don’t need to be perfect all the time either. »

Atiba Hutchinson knows something about this. The Canadian soccer legend wore the armband for the better part of the last decade, during a 20-year professional career.

Hutchinson is in Atlanta, and he’s hanging in the press gallery cafeteria after Marsch and Davies’ speeches. Behind him, tens of meters below, employees are working on the not-quite-finished lawn, installed urgently since last Saturday. Atlanta United usually plays on synthetics here, but we demand natural for these big international tournaments. We are writing this to you almost clandestinely, since security agents blocked access to the view of the field all day.

“The more time passes, the more [Davies] will learn about leadership, says Hutchinson, who will work with TSN for the tournament. Already, he is more vocal than when he arrived with the team. He was younger, and quieter back then. He gained the respect of the players. I think it’s good for him. He will be a good leader for the country in the years to come. »

Did he ask you for advice?

” No not yet ! It’s still very new. The door is always open if he wants to come see me. It is good kid, I can give him directions if he needs it. »

“A great level of respect” for Argentina

“Welcome to the very first press conference of the Copa América 2024,” said the CONMEBOL press relations officer, as Marsch and Davies had just sat down beside her.

In front of them, dozens of journalists, photographers and cameras who had just crossed the stations of the cross between the press gallery, in the heights of the Falcons and Atlanta United stadium, to this conference room, in its bowels.

Most of the questions revolve around Lionel Messi, the powerhouse that is Argentina.

PHOTO CHARLY TRIBALLEAU, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Coach Jesse Marsch and captain Alphonso Davies

“We have a great level of respect for this team,” assures Marsch, who most of the time reduces his answers to the “concentration” of his players on their own training, and on their “individual preparation”.

Especially when it comes to how to counter the best player in history.

“The challenge is not just his quality, but his movements in the match,” said the coach. He is not always in the same place, and he is very cunning in outwitting the defense line. […] There are things to watch out for, but the key will be to always be aware of his position and make sure he doesn’t have any open space. »

“We expect nothing but the best from them”

Argentina is not ranked first in the world by FIFA for nothing: it has only lost two matches in five years. There was the defeat against Saudi Arabia at the 2022 World Cup, then that against Uruguay last November, in qualifying for the next World Cup.

“I think Argentina will have learned from their mistake in Qatar against Saudi Arabia,” Marsch said. We expect nothing but the best from them. We would be crazy not to prepare accordingly. »

The coach, on the other hand, sees some lessons to be learned from the victory of Uruguay, under the orders of his counterpart Marcelo Bielsa: the latter was his predecessor at Leeds, and offers a style of play from which Marsch draws inspiration.

“Bielsa plays a very specific style which is different from mine,” he says. But there is this understanding of aggression in duels, of not backing down from high quality players. The physical aspect is important to us. »

In this sense, the coach had complained about the three days of leave offered to the players – before he arrived in office – after the match against France, in Bordeaux: it was for him three days less during which to work on the physical condition of his men. In this high and sustained pressure style of play, the Canadians must be on their feet for 90 minutes. Did he have time to reach the desired level of conditioning despite everything?

“We pushed them really hard,” he said, looking up at Davies, smiling.

“Yes,” confirms the captain, giggling.

“With the weather conditions, and the physical demands of these meetings, it was vital that we were at the top of our form. We pushed them, but they recovered, and we also worked on our tactical principles. We’re ready, and we’re excited. »

Without confirming his starting eleven, Jesse Marsch mentioned that “if there are changes” in his formation after the 0-0 against France, “they will not be many”.

“Anything can happen,” Hutchinson believes. It’s a football match. They have shown that they can compete against very good teams. »

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