Alphonso Davies is heading to Bayern Munich in January, and Vancouver Whitecaps will fetch the biggest transfer fee in MLS history to part with him. The numbers are pretty eye-catching on their own, without much context — $13.5 million up front, with the potential to rise to $22 million, is a massive fee for a 17-year-old. But given Bayern Munich’s transfer history, it’s an incredible endorsement of his skills and potential.
Real Madrid, Barcelona, and the big English clubs might throw $20 million at a high-upside prospect without batting an eyelash, but it’s slightly out of character for Bayern, who are the biggest bargain hunters among the teams that could realistically win the Champions League in the next couple of seasons.
Bayern will occasionally pay up for a player if they think he’s a can’t-miss prospect or is the missing piece for a Champions League contending team. Renato Sanches has been a big miss so far, but Bayern is right more often than they’re wrong when they make these moves — Javi Martinez and Corentin Tolisso were absolutely worth the money.
But those players are not the norm for Bayern. The cheap ones are. They don’t have one set modus operandi, and use a variety of techniques to snap up excellent players for cheap.
Robert Lewandowski, Sebastian Rudy, and Leon Goretzka all arrived at Bayern on free transfers after the club let their contracts run down, rather than paying a fee to get them early. Manuel Neuer and Mats Hummels were picked up at rates slightly below market value due to their refusal to sign new contracts with their clubs. Thiago Alcantara was cheap because he had a release clause that was activated after Barcelona failed to play him often. Arjen Robben and Jerome Boateng were undervalued by rich clubs and turned their careers around in Munich. Kingsley Coman and James Rodriguez were no-risk acquisitions, brought in on long loans with options to buy.
With all that in mind, Bayern paying well into the eight-figures for a 17-year-old with fewer than 100 professional games under his belt is a massive affirmation of his talent.
I don’t know how the negotiations for Davies proceeded, and I wouldn’t believe anything either club told me about them anyway. But based on the transfer fee and the lack of rumors leading up to the week where the deal was done, it feels like a situation where Bayern asked for Davies’ price, Vancouver quoted what they thought would be a very high price, and Bayern said they’d be willing to pay. It’s so un-Bayern.
The only other teenager who’s cost $22 million or more without proving themselves at a very high level first is Flamengo product Vinicius Junior, who’s heading to Real Madrid for around €45 million after dominating at South American Under-17 level. Lucas Moura and Gabriel Jesus were among the best players in Brazil before their moves, while all the other teenagers to make more expensive moves had played in a top eight European first division. Paying this much money for Davies is a huge gamble by anyone’s standards.
But Bayern thinks Davies is on the road to stardom. Their sporting director, Hasan Salihamidzic, says that Davies will not play his first half-season with the club with Bayern II to settle into life in Germany, but will instead go straight into the first team. “He should follow in the footsteps of the greats sooner or later, and we will try to bring him to that point as quickly as possible,” Salihamidzic says.
And given what Davies has done in the last two months, is there any reason to doubt him? While Davies was a decent young player with flashes of brilliance over his first 60 MLS games, he’s now emerged as one of the best attacking players in the league, period. Davies now has five goals and 10 assists on the season, with most of both coming in June and July.
Here’s Davies recording three assists against Orlando City, becoming the first Whitecaps player to accomplish that in MLS.
Here’s his jaw-dropping goal against D.C. United, just a week before he finalized his move to Bayern.
And here’s what Davies did this weekend against Minnesota United in his first game since signing with Bayern. He had a part in all four of the Whitecaps’ goals, setting up two for his teammates and scoring a pair of absolute stunners for himself.
Alphonso Davies is not just another great Bayern prospect, or a step forward for MLS as a developmental league. The talent evaluators for one of the best clubs in the world at identifying and developing talent think that he has an excellent chance at becoming world class. The fee that Bayern Munich spent to acquire him suggests that they think he will rise to the level of Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben, and subsequently replace them. It’s extremely rare for a club like Bayern to be this convinced of a 17-year-old’s ability.
MLS is becoming a better place for young talent every year, but we can’t look at Davies’ success and say that it’s a sign of things to come. He’s so much more than the product of an improving league with an increased focus on youth development. Bayern knows a lot more about this stuff than any of us do, and they think Davies is exceptional. Watch and appreciate him in MLS while you can.