youHe thought about representing his country in a World Cup It never seemed plausible to Jonathan David growing up. “I just wanted to play,” says the Canada striker. “Have fun. I wasn’t even close to thinking: ‘One day I’m going to play a World Cup with my country.’ This was all just a dream.”
Not anymore. For Canada’s men, this is their first appearance on the world stage since 1986. Soccer’s popularity has grown thanks to the emergence of an exciting generation of players who came to Qatar after excelling during qualifying, and David is excited. “I’ve thought about that first game,” he says. “How it will feel to step on the court for the first time. See the fans, the stadium and see the great team you’re up against”.
The draw has not been kind to Canada. Group F contains Croatia, a beaten finalist at the 2018 World Cup, and an aging but dangerous Belgium. Morocco is also an awkward proposition, and yet as David thinks about the possibility of taking on Luka Modric and Kevin De Bruyne, he doesn’t want to leave the impression that Canada will suffer from an inferiority complex.
The message is that Canada has no intention of making up numbers. They have progressed rapidly since John Herdman was appointed head coach in 2018. Herdman had performed well with the women’s team, guiding them to bronze medals at the 2012 and 2016 Olympics, and the 47-year-old Englishman has had a similar stimulating effect. about men
Canada, which faces Belgium on Wednesday, will back up. They value possession, fly forward at half-time and, in David, have a key forward for Lille to impress French football by winning Ligue 1 in 2021.
“We haven’t been to a World Cup in 36 years, but I don’t think the teams are thinking we’re not a good team,” says David. “I don’t think they underestimate us. It would be a mistake to do so. It will be very hard because our group is very tough. But we have the belief that we can get out of the group.”
David praises Herdman. “I think the biggest secret of our team is our coach. He came at a great time, right after the 2018 World Cup, so we had four years to prepare. One of the first things he told us was: ‘We are going to qualify for the World Cup.’ Obviously at first we didn’t know what to think because we hadn’t been to one for a long time.
“But he really brought us together. He brought a brotherhood, with everyone working for each other and working hard. Over the years, that grew and led us to where we are today. From what I heard from the older players who were on the national team before me, before John came along, the group was not united. There were some here, some there. He gathered everyone. And tactically he is very detailed in what he wants and how he wants to achieve it”.
When did David realize that something special was happening? “When we played the United States at home in 2019 and we won 2-0. The first time in 34 years that we beat them at home. That was like, ‘Wow, something’s going on here.’”
Canada’s rise is a triumph of openness and diversity. Their left-back midfielder, Bayern Munich’s Alphonso Davies, was born in a refugee camp. David was born in Brooklyn to Haitian parents and spent his early years in Haiti, where he caught the soccer bug. “I already loved the game before I came to Canada,” he says. “I was playing with my dad, watching him play, playing in the street with friends.”
David, who supported Barcelona and Brazil, moved to Ottawa when he was six years old. He wears Canada’s jersey with pride, but loves the multicultural aspect of his identity. “The American part is the least I have because I didn’t grow up there,” he says. “But the Haitian part and the Canadian part are what make me who I am.
“My Haitian part is always working hard. Never give up, no matter what situation you are in. From a Canadian point of view, it’s always hard work too, but knowing that what you have is something other people don’t have.”
It’s been a long journey to the top. David joined his local team, Ottawa Gloucester SC, at the age of 11 before moving to the Ottawa Internationals and was chosen by Canada’s youth program four years later. Focus was key. “I had doubts here and there,” he says. “You have a lot of people in your ears when you are young, telling you this and that, and when you are young you are very gullible and want to believe everything.
“I was lucky to have the right people around me. The best advice might have been: ‘Just remember at the beginning what you set out to achieve and you have to be a man of your word.
David held his ground after moving to Belgium to join Gent in 2017. He kept homesickness at bay and seized the opportunity when he finally made his first-team debut, coming off the bench to score a last-minute equalizer. “After that, everything happened very quickly,” he says.
Searing form led to David joining Lille at the start of the 2020-21 season. The first few months in France were hard, but he soon picked up speed. “We are back from the Covid period,” he says. “I arrived very late in Lille. I didn’t have preseason and I had to meet the team”.
The results were devastating once David settled in. Led by Christophe Galtier, Lille faced Paris Saint-Germain. “When I first arrived, I didn’t think about winning any league titles,” says David. “I was just thinking about getting in shape. But as the season progresses and you think that anything is possible. It’s incredible to end up against PSG given the economy they have. It will remain in my mind forever.”
David’s improvement was crucial. He scored 11 times after Christmas and opened the scoring as Lille clinched the title by beating Angers 2-1 on the final day. “The whole day before the game I was nervous. This is the game that would define our entire season. You lose this game and all the work you put in is wasted. Everyone was a little nervous.”
Fortunately, David is an expert at controlling his emotions. The disappointment for Lille is that his promotion was untenable. The team has split up (Galtier now runs PSG) and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see David move next summer. He has played well since the arrival of Paulo Fonseca at Lille. Fonseca’s attacking style has brought out the best in David, who has scored 10 goals this season.
For David it is important to feel free on the field. He discusses the art of cumming. “It’s when you have more time to think that you have doubts,” he says. “When a center enters I think it all depends on instinct. It’s more when you’re ahead of the goalkeeper and you have space to think about what you’re going to do that it becomes more difficult. But if it is touching, finishing, there is no time to have doubts. Every game is an experience and you get better for it.”
David’s hero was Thierry Henry. The former Arsenal striker once said that he valued an assist more than a goal. “I see where it comes from,” says David. “But for me it is not at the same level. The goal is more! But assistance is near.
“My job is to score goals. But playing well and being involved in the game is what is going to achieve my goals. Getting my touches, combining, making my runs from behind. After that, everything is ready.”
Few players are better than De Bruyne when it comes to creating chances. “All this guy thinks is: ‘How can I help my striker?’” David says of the Belgian midfielder. “Playing with a guy like that would be a dream. You just have to run and you will get the ball. We just have to find a way to stop it.