‘You have to rise to the occasion’: Alphonso Davies on how Jesse Marsch has challenged him for CanMNT

Ahead of the Canadian men’s national team’s friendly against the Netherlands, Alphonso Davies made a rare appearance in front of the media alongside newly-appointed head coach Jesse Marsch at the pregame press conference.

The Bayern Munich star was asked about what it’s been like training under Marsch for the first time, as Canada try to bring a new identity together quickly ahead of the Copa América later this month.

Davies was quick to praise Marsch, whom he’s encountered before in his footballing career. The Edmonton native had an assist in Bayern’s 4-1 win over RB Leipzig during Marsch’s tenure there in 2021. He also encountered Marsch’s football a handful of times in Major League Soccer, while he was coach of the New York Red Bulls and Davies was still playing for the Vancouver Whitecaps.

Already, Davies says the quality of Canada’s training sessions has risen “drastically,” with Marsch bringing his experience from so many different levels of the game.

On an individual level though, Davies said Marsch has made an effort to uplift and empower him in particular to be a face of this Canadian team both on and off the pitch.

“He challenged me to see how many sprints I can do in a game,” Davies joked.

He added: “He asked me some difficult questions that I don’t really think of every day. It’s a challenge with those questions, putting me in a position where I’m not really comfortable in but I know that it’s part of life, you have to rise to the occasion and I’m definitely willing to do that.”

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Davies explained that Marsch has advised him to simplify his game, offering tips on when to play with the ball, when to tuck in, and other small nuances within his role as the team’s obvious superstar.

One of the key early challenges of Marsch’s tenure will be deciding how best to use Davies, who is one of the best left fullbacks in the world but has also often played as a winger or striker for his country. He’s an incredibly gifted player with the ball at his feet, but his pace and ability to win an individual battle have helped him become a well-rounded defender and climb to the very top of the sport at club level.

Nothing has been confirmed or announced, but some of Davies’ remarks suggested that he might be seen wearing the captain’s armband for Canada — if not immediately, then sometime in the future.

Marsch apparently sat down with Davies multiple times since taking over as head coach, and encouraged him to consider more deeply what it means to him to represent his country.

“I think the first time we met each other he asked me two or three times what it means to be a Canadian,” Davies said. “The first time I told him my answer, but then he really asked me, and I had to sit down and really think about it. Questions like that and just like, ‘If I was to put you in a situation to wear the armband, how would you carry yourself?’

“That’s not a question I really get every day. I always think I bring my experience on the pitch, but being more vocal, especially off the pitch; he told me about doing the team’s speeches. I’m usually not the one that does the team speeches, I just say ‘Let’s go boys,’ but he challenged me that way, getting me out of my comfort zone for sure.”

Marsch, for his part, explained that he’s been invested heavily in speaking to every Canadian player, in an effort to assess everyone’s commitment level and learn more about the group.

According to him, the early signs are good.

“Most teams that I’ve coached, there’s one, two, three guys that are a little bit difficult to manage in the overall group — just that everybody’s aware that they’re a little bit edge and we have to kind of take care of things the right way,” he said. “But I can really see that in this team, in this group of people, there’s only players and people that want to help each other achieve, with ultimate goals in mind and a drive to be successful as a group, and that selflessness, I think, will be a main foundation for us to continue to build in a really good way.”

Marsch’s first test with Canada will be on Thursday, when they take on the Netherlands in Rotterdam before heading to Bordeaux for a friendly against France.