AN IN-DEPTH INTERVIEW WITH PA MODOU KAH PART TWO: HELPING ALPHONSO DAVIES ON THE ROAD TO STARDOM

  • Pair were player and coach together in their days at Vancouver Whitecaps
  • Advised star pupil on the challenges he would face when he quit MLS for Europe
  • Smiles as he recalls the ’welcome’ he gave jet-paced kid in his first top team training session
  • Told Whitecaps hierarchy they had a player who was going to earn them millions
  • Phonzie hails him as an ’amazing coach’ in his glowing testimonial for Sport Careers Agency CV

MENTOR AND PUPIL...Pa and Alphonso together on the touchline in their days at Vancouver Whitecapscbc.ca

ALPHONSO DAVIES hung on every word.

”You have to go there as an investment player.

”And when you get there? Be humble, listen and learn, every day. This is Europe, this is different.”

Canada's poster-boy was the pupil in the Vancouver Whitecaps locker-room.

The teacher and mentor was coach Pa Modou Kah.

Back then starry-eyed Phonzie, who can now lay a legitimate claim to being the best left-back in the world, was a rapt audience for one simple reason. Respect.

Davies, born to Liberian parents in a refugee camp in Ghana, knew everything about the journey from the toughest of beginnings to making it as a professional footballer.

Yet he craved the knowledge of what was required to take the next step from Major League Soccer into life with a European club.

Sport Careers Agency client Pa, who this season had his own breakthrough campaign leading Pacific FC to the Canadian Premier League title, had that wisdom ingrained in him.

Pa's playing career had seen him emigrate to Norway from Gambia when he was an eight-year-old kid to become the first black player ever to star for his adopted nation.

Now he had the chance to influence a unique talent whose battles in many ways echoed his own.

When we spoke for this in-depth Sport Careers Agency interview Pa was back home in Victoria, British Columbia, on beautiful Vancouver Island where new Canadian champions Pacific FC are based.

I was at home in the East of Canada in Halifax, Nova Scotia, on the other side of the country.

Yet we both live in a land where coast to coast Davies is now a national hero.

Pa reflected: ”Phonzie is a generational talent for this country. When people talk about Canadian football he is the first name that comes up.

”That's rightly so and the crazy part is that he is just really four full years into his professional career. He has only just turned 21.

”Look at the success he has had already but the biggest thing for me is that he remains himself.

”I remember we were sitting talking one day and I said: 'You can't enter Europe as a $1million player because then you will just be the same as the boys they have in their Academy.'

”I told him: 'You need to enter Europe as an INVESTMENT player.' Then we looked at the things he needed to work on.

”I emphasised that they were buying his potential, they were not buying a ready-made product here.”

Shrewd Welsh Head Coach Carl Robinson had carved out a role for Pa as a coach at Whitecaps when the influential veteran decided to hang up his boots at one of Canada's three MLS franchises.

That meant Davies could tap into the expertise of a player who had shone in Norway with Valerenga, Sweden with AIK Stockholm and Holland with Roda JC.

Pa saw a jet-paced kid develop into the talent that Bayern Munich signed for a $22million (US) fee that now looks like a transfer market heist.

And the Pacific FC boss revealed: ”I warned Alphonso that when he got to Germany there would be the adaptation phase where Bayern would tell him to play second team or whatever.

”I stressed that he had to do that with a big smile on his face and an openness and an eagerness to get better.

”I knew with his quality and his athleticism he was ready for Europe but he had to be more tactically savvy.

”When you become a $22million player then you are that investment we had spoken about and you have to now look at your end product on the field.

”I told him he had the chance now to be combining with world-class players. Be curious, learn, ask questions.”

Pa's Sport Careers CV gives a telling insight to the relationship between coach and player.

In the testimonial section Davies states: ”Pa is an amazing coach, he really tries to push and motivate his players.

”What he learned from his time in Europe he tries to pass onto the next generation. The level of trust and effort he puts in his players is truly mind-blowing, he always takes the time out of his day to help them out.

”I've learned a lot from Pa, not just football-wise but human qualities as well, he taught me how to be someone that people look up to.”

A NATION'S HERO...Davies is driving Canada towards qualification for Qatar 2022canpl.ca

This season Pa inspired a Pacific squad filled with players who had been cast off by clubs like Whitecaps to a memorable triumph.

A huge part of that Championship success is the bond he has built with his squad, that innate ability to empathise with yet always challenge those he works with.

Pa smiled: ”Alphonso will tell you I was hard on him and I still am because I feel he has the capability to become one of the best players in the world.

”The first time I saw him I saw a skinny kid in our locker-room and then he joined the session.

”I laid a little bit on him in training to be honest just to see whether he would shrink away from it.

”It was me and big Kendall Waston who played for Costa Rica, we were senior figures at Whitecaps then, and we wanted to see how he would react.

”I laid into Phonzie, BOOM! Then Kendall gave him some and third time he had the ball he showed his intelligence and popped the ball around us.

”I turned to Robbo and I said: 'Sign this kid, he will make you millions.' You just knew it.”

Today the pair stay in touch and Pa watches from afar with Davies now a Champions League winner.

He is also the driving force behind Canada standing on the cusp of qualifying for their first World Cup Finals in 36 YEARS.

Pa stressed: ”Look, Phonzie came to Canada as a refugee and football has opened a door for him.

”There should be more openness in the game in North America to give kids like him more chances.

”Today, though, I am just happy that he knows who truly helped him and who truly didn't.”

Davies' testimonial tells you all you need to know about the influence Pa had on his formative days in Vancouver.

It prompted the obvious question to the compelling character that is the Pacific FC Head Coach. Who helped shape HIM?

Pa's mind is dragged back to his days in Holland with Roda JC and he says: ”Huub Stevens was proper old school, he felt you had to earn the respect in everything in the game.

”He was dead honest, he told you everything straight to your face and on the human level he was very good with players.

”He was a motivator if not a master tactician and then I worked with Raymond Atteveld - who played at Everton - and that was fascinating as he was tactically so smart.

”He had a bravery about him that I loved, he was adamant that we were good enough to play a true three at the back away to PSV Eindhoven and Ajax.

”Raymond believed in his system and he didn't want the defenders looking for help it was NOT three becoming five, it was three!

”So that was something to look at and learn, throughout my career there were things from some other coaches that I knew I didn't want to do.”

In Part One of this interview Pa praised the influence former Whitecaps boss Robinson had on his development as a coach.

Those early days of adapting from player to coach are always tough and Pa knows he was fortunate to have the experience of two other key figures to draw upon. Both of them Scots.

John Park was the Head of Recruitment at Celtic when he made the Dutch market a fruitful place to shop for the Scottish giants.

It was Park who spotted a promising ball-playing centre-half at FC Groningen and brought him to Glasgow for a paltry fee of 900,000 GBP.

His name was Virgil van Dijk and Liverpool would eventually pay 75MILLION GBP for him to help propel them to Champions League and English Premiership title glory.

Park and Modou Kah formed a bond in their time together at Whitecaps and Pa recalled: ”When John arrived at Vancouver he was an education to work with.

”I didn't realise that he had tracked me as a player when I was at Roda JC in Holland and he was at Celtic.

”Our relationship blossomed and when we talked he was always encouraging and adamant that I could change the landscape in coaching.

”John and Carl's assistant coach Gordon Forrest were huge influences on me in that transition from player to coach.

”Gordon was another knowledgeable Scotsman and we drove to training together because we lived close to each other and talked so much about the game.

”We share the same passion of growing young players and he is a tremendous person and an excellent coach.

”He is now back home and the assistant manager at Heart of Midlothian in Scotland and when he speaks football you should listen.”

MR MOTIVATOR...Pa inspired Pacific FC to a historic title win, now he is planning anothercanpl.ca

As winter bites in Canada Pa is in planning mode, strategising how to repeat becoming the first side in the CPL's three-year existence to break Ontario-based Forge FC's hold on the title.

Pre-season scheduling, looking at prospective new signings, one eye on what the CONCACAF Champions League campaign that will pit him against the best coaching minds in the USA and Mexico might bring.

For now Pa has a right to still savour his side's pivotal 1-0 play-off triumph over powerhouse Forge on their own turf in Hamilton last month.

He reasoned: ”If we are developing a true league in Canada coast to coast then our success is important, life can't just be centralised around Toronto.

”We need success in all the markets and now they have to talk about the team from the island because we are the champions. Winning the title for our community was fantastic.

”Now we have to keep pushing on. All I wanted as a player was the truth from a coach and a method of how they would improve me.

”So as a coach I treat them as humans first and that's what I care about the most.

”If you have been around this game then we can all learn the tactics but that's not what wins you the game.

”It's a part of it but you win it with the players trusting you and believing in the work you do together.

”We have many players who had been at Whitecaps and been let go, they were in the reserve team when that was dissolved and they were sent to Fresno in the States.

”So the CPL opened a door for them and now some of these players are champions before their friends in the MLS.

”One doors closes on you and another one opens. I tell them that they have an opportunity now, I think last season we gave them some life lessons.”

PA MODOU KAH ON THE SERVICE HE RECEIVED FROM SPORT CAREERS AGENCY

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