A tumultuous Vancouver Whitecaps season came to an end last week against the Portland Timbers. It was also the last time Alphonso Davies featured in a Whitecaps shirt.
The winger ended his season with the Caps in the best way possible. The 17-year-old, who turned 18 Nov. 2, scored two goals and was the player of the match.
His two goals against Portland were number seven and eight this season. Furthermore, the fashion in which he scored both goals made many Bayern fans across the world salivate. Davies is the sort of player who will run directly at an opposing defense, using his speed and trickery to get around defenders to either score or set up teammates.
It is the sort of skillset the Bavarians are lacking at the moment.
Eleven games into the season, Bayern has already dropped 13 points and are currently seven points behind league leaders Borussia Dortmund.
On matchday 10, Bayern dropped two points to Freiburg and were then outclassed by Dortmund on matchday 11 losing Germany’s biggest match 3-2.
The Bavarians lack speed and creativity in the attacking third. The likes of Frank Ribéry and Arjen Robben struggle to beat their opponents in one-v-one situations.
Ribéry came on in the second half (63rd minute), but even against tired Freiburg legs, he was unable to get past his opponents. Of his three dribble attempts, only one was successful. Robben, in the meantime, made just one, unsuccessful dribble attempt during the 63 minutes he was on the pitch.
Age is the main factor for the two wingers. Robben is now 34 and Ribéry is 35. Bundesliga observers have noted that the amount of sprints, top speed and dribble attempts dropped significantly already last season, and the first 10 games this season further accentuate this development.
Bayern’s head coach, Niko Kovac, hopes that younger wingers Serge Gnabry, currently-injured Kingsley Coman and, of course, Davies can provide some speed, as well as creativity on either flank.
“One thing is certain, when you spend that much money on a player, then you don’t park him at the reserves,” Kovac told reporters ahead of the Freiburg game.
Bayern paid an initial €10 million, or about $12 million, for Davies. While that is not a mega transfer in the context of today’s transfer market spendings, it is a significant amount of money for Bayern.
The Bavarians have never spent more than €41 million on any player (Corentin Tolisso in the summer of 2017), and only 29 players in the entire history of the club were more expensive than Davies. Should Davies hit all his bonuses, the transfer could go up to €18 million ($22 million), which would put him in a category with Roy Makaay, World Cup winner Miroslav Klose and Brazilian national team player Luiz Gustavo.
It’s an investment Bayern hopes will help the club right away. Going by Davies’ MLS numbers this season, there is significant hope that he could. The winger led the league this season with 4.2 successful dribble attempts and managed eight goals and nine assists this season.
It is Davies’ ability to run straight at defenders and still beat them, that made him such an attractive commodity. The German development program has struggled to produce direct players and as a result, Bayern’s Bundesliga opponents have looked to England to find dribblers that are fearless when it comes to taking Bundesliga defenders on in top speed.
Borussia Dortmund’s 18-year-old Jadon Sancho and Hoffenheim’s 18-year-old Reiss Nelson, in particular, have been astonishing early on in the season.
“Both bring a directness to the game that you don’t find with German youth players,” Bundesliga expert Archie Rhind-Tutt said on the Bundesliga Gegenpressing Podcast a week ago.
That directness, speed and goalscoring impact is something Bayern hopes to get out of Davies right away as well. The club even hopes Davies can maybe step up right away and help to salvage a difficult season.
The question is whether Davies is that sort of impact player. In order to answer that question, Pro Soccer USA contacted the German stats company Goalimpact, which uses an algorithm to measure the impact individual players have on the field.
The system is described as follows on the companies homepage: “Starting at approximately two seasons of data input into our system, we can evaluate the current and forecast reliably the player’s future real strength. This is what we call the Goalimpact.”
The database in short measures the extent that a player contributes to the goal difference of a team. A player with a high goal index rating contributes significantly to a positive goal difference when he is on the pitch compared to when he is not on the field.
“We average the impact of all games of a player’s career for all clubs, competitions and seasons in relation to all other players in our database. This rating is adjusted by teammate’s values and the opposition strength and by such factors as the number of minutes played, home advantage, fatigue degree and red cards in a game.”
The best players in the world achieve above 200 index points. Also, every club and league has an average value. The average for the first German Bundesliga, for example, is approx. 119 points with peaks of up to 162 on average for top teams. Spanish La Liga has an average of 111 points and Italian Serie A is rated with a Goalimpact score of 104 on average.
In Biermann’s book “Matchplan,” the company’s founder Jörg Seidel compares his statistics to those of a handicap in golf or the Elo rating system in chess. To put it in Biermann’s words: “Seidel doesn’t suggest that Thomas Müller is a better player than Karim Benzema when the former scores 195 and the later 190. He only suggests that the former is a more valuable player for his team than the later.”
To make the system work, Goalimpact has put together a database that includes 320,000 players from over 200 leagues. Goalimpact includes datasets from leagues from all over the world including many youth competitions.
The system also takes into account age. A 21-year-old player, for example, is calculated to play, on average, worse than a 26-year-old, an age when many players reach their peak. Even a relative age effect is included in which youth players born in the second half of the year are given a handicap in the database – players born in the second half of the year often struggle in youth teams as they play against older players.
When Biermann wrote his book, Seidel pointed out that Alphonso Davies was the highest ranked player in the system with numbers that ranked him alongside Cristiano Ronaldo.
ProSoccerUSA caught up with Seidel to speak about Davies’ development since the conclusion of Biermann’s research for his book.
“Davies is a very talented player but his development has been slower than expected. I hope for him that he will improve at Bayern,” Seidel said when asked about Davies’ development.
Seidel points to a graphic that the company develops for every player in the system. “When he was 16, we projected him to become a top 20 player, it was the high point of his career. Right now we see him as a top 1000 player. That is still good but not exceptional,” Seidel said. The Goalimpact creator, however, also added. “He can, of course, make up for it, if his development once again speeds up. His transfer to Bayern could help.”
ProSoccerUSA asked Seidel how much of an impact his teammates had on the dip in his development. In other words, was Davies’ development slowed down because the Whitecaps performed below expectations?
“A player isn’t “punished” for playing with less talented teammates. If his teammates are good, but the team doesn’t work well, then all players are being downgraded,” Seidel said. “But whether that was the case here is not something we evaluate,” the Goalimpact founder quickly added.
That last question is important. The Whitecaps have come off a poor season and head coach Carl Robinson had at times played Davies out of position. As Seidel explained the position and the overall performance of the squad does not come into account when he collects the data. But looking at the graph a significant dip is apparent right around the time when Robinson played Davies out of position as a left-back.
Furthermore, the slowdown of his development could also be an aspect of his environment. Jadon Sancho, for example, joined Borussia Dortmund as a 17-year-old and is currently projected as a top 500 player by Goalimpact. The Englishman had the advantage that he played an additional year in the Bundesliga.
With all this in mind, there is no doubt that Bayern have landed a gem. But Alphonso Davies will now need the guidance from a top coach, with plenty of playing time at a top division in order to regain the potential that experts saw in him a year ago.