Chris Jones is in Qatar covering the Men’s World Cup for CBC Sports.
Nearly 48 hours after Alphonso Davies scored the first World Cup goal in Canadian men’s team history in a 4-1 loss to Croatia, he finally sat down with reporters Tuesday night to talk about it.
“I looked to my left and I just saw all my teammates running towards me,” he said, recalling the celebration that followed, which included an accidental header from an ecstatic Liam Millar . “It was a great feeling. We’ve been waiting for that moment for a long time.”
Davies wasn’t the only one waiting. His appearance in the media tent at Canada’s training facility was his first since the start of the World Cup 10 days ago, and the story of his conspicuous absence filled the void left by his silence.
After every game here, the rights-holding broadcasters – TSN in Canada and beIN Sports internationally – get the first crack at the players as they leave the field. Davies spoke briefly to both after the Croatia match.
STOP | Soccer North — Canada vs. Croatia reaction show after the match:
There are two other media opportunities for print media and international reporters: a press conference, usually held by the head coach and a key player, and a mixed area between the pitch and the team rooms.
After Canada’s opening loss to Belgium, when Davies missed a penalty that could have changed the result, he was not at the press conference and walked through the mixed zone surrounded by young colleagues, ignoring requests for comment.
Following the defeat to Croatia, when he scored his historic goal, he was again absent from the press conference and did not break stride in the mixed zone, shaking his head at shouting reporters as he munched on a sandwich.
Davies has every right not to speak. On some level, his reluctance is understandable.
Part of the public trust
“I’m happy I managed to score,” said Davies, “but at the end of the day we lost the game and that was really what I was thinking about. I was very devastated and very disappointed with the way the team played.”
It remains undoubtedly his responsibility, having benefited from a federally funded program in Canada Soccer, to help promote the sport, especially at a time when so many eyes are on him. When you wear a Canada Soccer jersey, you are no longer a private enterprise. You are part of a public trust.
Bigger players on bigger teams accept these terms. Lionel Messi has spoken here several times, including after a humiliating loss to Saudi Arabia. Cristiano Ronaldo has too. The U.S. Soccer Federation held roundtables with each of its players. There’s nothing like a World Cup to put football at the center of things.
More importantly from a team perspective, media responsibilities don’t go away when Davies shirks them. They move on to his less famous peers. Atiba Hutchinson, Steven Vitoria, Alistair Johnston — the demands on them are increasing.
After Davies’ refusal to stop in Croatia’s mixed zone, Sandra Gage, Canada Soccer’s director of marketing, was hammered by incredulous reporters. Then she tried to stop Jonathan David: she clasped her hands, begging him to speak. He walked right past her.
That moment is emblematic of a growing star problem with Davies.
Divisions are inevitable, unfortunately, a function of Canada’s strange and layered roster. England’s third-string goalkeeper is still a top-level professional and a multi-millionaire. Davies wears diamond earrings that probably cost more than James Pantemis’ annual salary at Montreal CF.
Now there has been a worrying outpouring, on and off the pitch. Davies, who has only taken two penalties in his career, both in low-pressure situations, should never have taken the spot-kick against Belgium. David, a pure striker who took 12 penalties, should.
Clearly aware of the history at stake, Davies took the ball – “Because I felt confident at the moment,” he said – and then a weak shot, and Canada eventually lost 1-0 .
Why would David want to speak for himself?
There were other, less obvious signs of potential disharmony despite this team’s self-proclaimed “brotherhood.”
Davies, wielding his celebrity like a weapon, signed his own deal with Canada Soccer for the jersey rights; the rest of his colleagues are still waiting for theirs.
He arrived late in Qatar, presumably to receive superior treatment for a nagging injury at Bayern Munich, his professional club. Nick Huoseh, Davies’ agent, attended Tuesday’s meeting with reporters. No other players received an escort.
During Canada’s fantastic World Cup qualifying run, any possible cracks and fissures were lost under a string of celebrations, thankfully without head knocks.
But now this team is losing – and against Croatia, losing badly – and with that comes the real test of character. Thursday’s final game against Morocco will tell us a lot.
“We want something out of it,” Davies said. “We want to show that we belong on this stage.”
This stage is the largest in the world, and occupying it has its costs. Alphonso Davies must understand that he alone is not above paying them.
Watch Soccer North live right after every game in Canada CBC Gem, CBCSports.ca and the CBC Sports YouTube channel