Is Alphonso Davies’ stardom a potential problem for Canada’s men’s World Cup team?

Chris Jones is in Qatar to cover the Men’s World Cup for CBC Sports.

Nearly 48 hours after Alphonso Davies scored the first ever World Cup goal for the Canadian men’s team in a 4-1 loss to Croatia, he finally met with reporters on Tuesday night to talk about.

« I looked to my left and saw all my teammates running towards me, » he said, recalling the celebration that followed, which included an accidental headbutt from an ecstatic Liam Millar . « It was a great feeling. We’ve been waiting for this moment for a long time. »

Davies wasn’t the only one waiting. His appearance in the media tent at Canada’s training center 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 – are the first to attack the players as they leave the field. Davies spoke briefly with the two after the game against Croatia.

WATCH | Soccer North — Canada v Croatia post-match reactions broadcast:

Post-match reaction between Canada and Croatia

Watch Andi Petrillo and his guests take a look at the Canada-Croatia game at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

There are two other media opportunities for print media and international journalists: a press conference, usually held by the head coach and a key player, and a mixed zone between the pitch and the team rooms.

After Canada’s first defeat against 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 teammates, ignoring requests for comment .

After the loss to Croatia, when he scored his historic goal, he was no longer at the press conference, and he stood still in the mixed zone, shaking his head at clamoring reporters while wolfing down a sandwich .

Davies has every right not to talk. On one level, his reluctance is even understandable.

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Davies enters training in front of a poster commemorating Canada’s qualification for the Men’s World Cup. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

Part of the public trust

« I’m glad I was able to score, » Davies said, « but at the end of the day we lost the game, and that was really what I thought. I was very devastated and very disappointed with the way the team played. »

It arguably remains his responsibility, having benefited from a federally funded program at Canada Soccer, to help promote the sport, especially at a time when so many eyes are on it. When you wear a Canada Soccer jersey, you are no longer a private company. You are part of a public trust.

The biggest players on the biggest teams accept these terms. Lionel Messi has spoken many times here, including after a humiliating loss to Saudi Arabia. Cristiano Ronaldo too. The American Football Federation organized round tables with each of its players. Nothing like a World Cup to put football at the heart of the action.

More importantly from a team perspective, media responsibilities don’t go away when Davies avoids them. They move on to his less famous teammates. Atiba Hutchinson, Steven Vitoria, Alistair Johnston — the demands on them are increasing.

After Davies refused to stop in the Croatian mixed zone, Canada Soccer’s marketing director Sandra Gage was hammered by incredulous reporters. She then tried to stop Jonathan David: she literally joined his hands, begging him to speak. He walked right past her.

This moment is emblematic of a growing star issue with Davies.

Divisions are inevitable, unfortunately, due to Canada’s odd and stratified roster. England’s third keeper is still a top professional and multi-millionaire. Davies wears diamond earrings that probably cost more than James Pantemis’ annual salary at CF Montreal.

Now there have been disturbing fallouts, on and off the pitch. Davies, who has taken just two penalties in his career, both in low pressure situations, should never have taken the free kick against Belgium. David, a pure striker who took 12 penalties, should have.

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Davies, right, runs with teammate Jonathan David during practice on Tuesday. Davies fired a crucial penalty against Belgium when many thought David, a more accomplished goalscorer, should have fired. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

Clearly aware of the story at stake, Davies took the ball — « Because I felt confident at the time, » he said — then a weak shot, and Canada ultimately lost, 1-0 .

Why would David want to speak for him?

There were other less obvious signs of potential disharmony, despite this team’s self-proclaimed « brotherhood ».

Davies, wielding his stardom as a weapon, signed his own deal with Canada Soccer for jersey rights; the rest of his teammates are still waiting for theirs.

He arrived late in Qatar, allegedly 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 player received an escort.

During Canada’s fantastic run to qualify for the World Cup, all potential cracks and cracks were lost under a series of thankfully non-pumping celebrations.

But now this team is losing – and against Croatia, losing badly – and with that comes the real test of character. Thursday’s last game against Morocco will tell us a lot.

« We want something out of it, » Davies said. « We want to show that we belong in this scene. »

This stage is the largest in the world, and occupying it has its price. Alphonso Davies must understand that he alone is not above paying them.

Watch Soccer North live immediately after each of Canada’s matches on CBC Gem, and the CBC Sports YouTube channel

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