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Alphonso Davies: Work in progress at Bayern

(L-R) Bayern Munich's French midfielder Kingsley Coman, Bayern Munich's Canadian midfielder Alphonso Davies and Bayern Munich's Columbian midfielder James Rodriguez are pictured during the German first division Bundesliga football match FC Bayern Munich vs VfB Stuttgart in the southern German city of Munich on January 27, 2019. (Photo by Guenter SCHIFFMANN / AFP)

MUNICH, Germany — It was one of the most celebrated transfers in Canadian soccer history. In July, then 17-year-old Alphonso Davies joined German giant Bayern Munich in a deal worth $12 million — possibly up to $22 million with all bonuses added. FIFA transfer regulations, however, meant Davies had to complete the 2018 Major League Soccer season in Vancouver before officially joining Bayern Jan. 1. 

Bayern outbid the likes of Paris Saint-Germain to land the wunderkind by promising meaningful first-team minutes. At the time of the transfer, those minutes seemed likely. After all, Bayern in recent years dominated the Bundesliga and come spring regularly was far ahead in league standings. So, the belief was that by the time Davies finally arrived in Munich, Bayern would mostly concentrate on winning the Champions League and the DFB Pokal (German Cup). That would have given Bayern head coach Niko Kovač the opportunity to rotate his side and play some of Bayern’s young stars, paving the way for a soft rebuild of an aging Bayern side. 

The story, however, did not quite work out this way.

Bayern struggled in the fall and throughout the month of October did not win a single game. Unlikely draws against Augsburg and Düsseldorf, as well as defeats to Hertha, Borussia Mönchengladbach and rival Borussia Dortmund meant the gap between Dortmund and Bayern was five points going into the winter break. 

Things did not improve much after that. On Feb. 2, Bayern lost 3-1 to Bayer Leverkusen and the gap grew to eight points. Bayern head coach Kovač was under the pressure to field his strongest XI in order to catch up with Dortmund. So when Pro Soccer USA visited Bayern’s game against Augsburg Feb. 15, Alphonso Davies was not even in the squad.

Bayern won that game 3-2 and then managed a 0-0 draw midweek in the Champions League against Liverpool. Alphonso Davies was back in the squad for that trip, but did not feature. 

The same was the case Saturday when Bayern hosted Hertha in front of an announced 75,000 fans at the Allianz Arena. Following the game, Bayern Munich fans celebrated. For the first time in 2019, their side managed a clean sheet in the Bundesliga, and with a 1-0 win over Hertha Berlin had closed the gap with Borussia Dortmund at the top of the table.

Munich’s Jerome Boateng and Hertha’s Davie Selke challenge for the ball during a German Bundesliga soccer match between Bayern Munich and Hertha BSC Berlin in Munich, Germany, Feb.23, 2019. (Matthias Balk/dpa via AP)

“Today was a game that we would have perhaps not won in the first half of the season,” right back Joshua Kimmich said after the game. “In the first half of the season, this would have been a game where would have perhaps conceded a goal in the last few minutes.”

Not celebrating was Davies.

Pro Soccer USA tried to catch up with the young Canadian following the game but Davies rushed through the mixed zone and just shook his head when asked about his media availability. 

His coach did take the time to speak.

“He is a very young good player, who has shown his skills in America. He is now at FC Bayern Munich and has to be integrated, which can take time at a big club, but he is on a positive path,” Kovač explained following the game. 

But Bayern is under pressure to produce every week at the moment. The game against Hertha was no different.

Kovač had to react twice to injury concerns — Frank Ribéry was taken off for Kingsley Coman in the 57th minute, who in turn then had to be taken off for Thomas Müller after suffering a hamstring injury. 

That double substitution and Hertha’s pressure made it impossible for Davies to see minutes against Hertha. While his skill set would have made him a good replacement for Coman, Müller’s experience in big games trumped Davies’ technical abilities. 

“We won the game, that is the only thing that matters. Games are tight, and those that make the last mistake win the game,” Kovač said in his game summary.

The Bundesliga, and Bayern Munich, in particular, is a shark tank. While the league, in general, is a great place for young talent, points ultimately, trump personal development.

“That isn’t just the case here, but it is probably the same at any other Bundesliga club,” Kovač said,  before adding quickly with a smile on his face, “We have to give the boy some time. You have to be patient with young players. Look at Renato Sanches, he is a Portuguese national team player and he is not playing a lot either. We can’t expect from young players that they shake out a storm.

“Footballing-wise, he is developing. But this is Bayern Munich. and it isn’t always easy to right away make an impact as a young player.”

Bayern Munich’s Canadian midfielder Alphonso Davies controls the ball during the German first division Bundesliga football match, Bayern Munich v Schalke 04 on February 9, 2018 in Munich, southern Germany. (Photo by Guenter SCHIFFMANN / AFP)

Bayern sporting director Hasan Salihamidžić also spoke with Pro Soccer USA about Davies after the Hertha game, saying, “There are many good players. It will always be difficult to keep everyone happy.”

“Bayern are going to play over 50 games this season and everyone will get their minutes. Ultimately, the coach can only select 11 players. We have 18-19 players plus three goalkeepers, it is perhaps interesting for the press when certain players don’t play,” Salihamidžić said laughing. 

The bottom line for Davies this season has been 18 minutes spread over three Bundesliga games.

That might not seem like a lot, and does not meet the expectations of many Davies fans back in Canada, but Bayern leadership pointed out the jump from Major League Soccer to one of the five biggest clubs in the world can be massive.

At the same time, Davies needs playing time, playing time that was granted to him Sunday with Bayern’s reserve side, which plays in the Regionalliga Bayern (fourth division). 

The Städtische Stadion an der Grünwalder Stadion, the home ground of Bayern rival 1860 Munich and also the stadium were Bayern’s reserves play, is not the Allianz Arena.

And playing against Ingolstadt II in the fourth division is a far cry from Champions League football against Liverpool.

But playing is better than not, and the reserve side has the foundation of other Bayern greats, such Philipp Lahm and Bastian Schweinsteiger. Both players were delegated to play in the lower leagues early in their careers, and both ended up winning the World Cup with Germany in 2014.

Also, Davies’ relegation to the farm team does not mean that Bayern isn’t happy with his development, quite the opposite.

“I am happy with his development, and if the results are right he will get more playing time,” Kovač concluded.

So, Davies and his fans in Canada — be patient.

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