Will he or won’t he play on Wednesday? The mystery surrounding Canada star Alphonso Davies’ fitness at the World Cup will soon be answered.
If not definitive.
The Bayern Munich star has not played since walking off the pitch with the back of his right thigh on November 6 in a Bundesliga match at Hertha Berlin. An elated Davies arrived late in Qatar, landing last Friday after staying in Germany for treatment of a hamstring strain.
Bayern subsequently said its participation in the World Cup was “not in danger”, which admittedly was positive not exactly a timetable for a return to play,
Canada Soccer did not make the 22-year-old from Edmonton available at his daily post-training media sessions. But Davies took the initiative on Sunday and declared himself fit in an interview with TSN.
“I’m ready to go,” he said, referring to the 41st-seeded Canadian’s midweek tournament against No. 2 Belgium.
READ MORE: Team Canada’s Alphonso Davies lands as Doha warms up ahead of World Cup kick-off
Coach John Herdman was much more cautious when speaking to the media on Saturday. He said that although Davies was able to participate in some of the contact work during training, “he is still building to reach his top speed.”
“He hasn’t reached that top speed yet and when you have hamstring injuries it’s always the key moment. That’s when the thigh muscle is pushed to its limit.”
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Davies appeared to reach one of those limits during a warm-up drill on Monday when he grimaced and pulled up, seemingly favoring a leg. He returned to the warm-up but looked in visible discomfort for a few seconds.
Media are allowed to view 15 minutes before the training actually begins and they are directed back to the outside view media center. This means they can watch the players come out on the field and warm up.
On Monday, they did it two fields away from the watching reporters, who needed the Hubble Space Telescope to see what was going on. A long camera lens unearthed Davies’ moment of agony.
What happens after the warm-up is under control. Players can fire up a Hibachi grill and crack open a cold one with the traveling media unaware.
In the absence of any reliable intelligence about the Canada star, theories abound.
Was Davies’ public pronouncement intended to put pressure on Canada to play him on Wednesday in the wake of Herdman’s public caution?
“My mission is to make sure he plays at this World Cup, it’s a childhood dream for him,” the coach said on Saturday, before adding: “And not to put him in a position where he’s unsafe is not.”
The Davies camp has shown no reluctance to rock the Canada boat, as evidenced by the decision to request – and publicly – stop sales of its jerseys until an image/name deal was obtained. Talks about such an agreement were ongoing, but the public probably accelerated the process.
The Davies brand is carefully cultivated, with its management understandably extremely selective about who it contacts in the business world.
Davies chooses products close to his heart — he’s an avid FIFA player and just loves wearing Crocs.
A fan of the movie Cars, he showed off his Lightning McQueen special edition Crocs on a social media video in Doha. Montgomery (Lightning) McQueen is the protagonist of the animated Pixar franchise.
His portfolio also includes deals with Nike, BMO and BioSteel.
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Other teams at the tournament have 26 stars, all of whom have their own agendas, sponsors and advisors. While Canada has other elite players at top clubs, Davies is by far the team’s marquee man.
He has 6.6 million followers on TikTok, 5.1 million on Instagram and 479,300 on Twitter. Not to mention an irrepressible joie de vivre.
On the field, he’s lightning, able to run down opponents and wreak havoc among defenders. Health permitting, he is Canada’s wild card and a real problem for opponents.
The decision on whether he plays can of course only be made by the medical staff. One would hope so. Judging by Davies’ expression during that one worrying moment on Monday, he looked anything but ready to go.
The switch of the competition to November-December, in the middle of the season for most leagues, due to the unforgiving Qatar climate during the summer, increased the chance of players arriving with a knock.
READ MORE: Next-level opposition awaits Canada’s World Cup soccer team in Qatar
Herdman will not be the only coach at the tournament weighing up the risk-reward of using a player recovering from injury in the first outing, given concerns that exacerbating the problem by using Davies too soon’ can mean an even longer absence.
And while Canada is here to compete, the odds of beating Belgium aren’t high. So is it better to evict Fonzie and be safe rather than sorry?
Herdman also raised questions about the health of midfielder Stephen Eustaquio and goalkeeper Milan Borjan. Both were on the practice field in the portion visible to reporters on Monday.
Some have suggested that this is all gamesmanship on Canada’s part? It doesn’t seem Herdman’s style.
Or are Davies’ comments just a reflection of players wanting to play, as suggested by someone in the Canada camp?
Maybe so – especially on the world’s biggest stage – but most players also know their bodies and understand that cutting corners can lead to an even longer layoff. And the optics of trumping one’s coach hours after his news conference are less than ideal.
Asked on Monday how Davies looked, forward Ike Ugbo replied: “Really sharp as usual.” And left it there.
Others had a slight reservation
Forward Jonathan David said on Sunday that Davies’ declaration of fitness was “a big boost because we know how important a player he is to us and what he brings to the team.”
Then he added: “So, of course, if he’s 100 percent, we’re all happy.”
Veteran midfielder Jonathan Osorio said: “He is our star player. He is a very important player for us. We’ll see what the medical staff (says) when they examine him with the coaching staff. In the end they decide together with Alphonso if he is ready to go.”
Herdman, will again be front and center at the pregame news conference on Tuesday. Davies won’t be there, but he’ll still be hard to miss.