Stephen Appiah was 14 years and 322 days old when he made his senior debut for Ghana. He is the 8th youngest player to play a full international and the youngest to have played for a country that has qualified for a senior World Cup.
Although Appiah was never really a global superstar, his was a career that nearly any player would have been proud of. He had 67 senior caps for Ghana, scoring 14 goals. He won a FIFA u17 World Cup, was an Olympian and played in several AFCON tournaments. On the club side, he managed to find the field for one of the biggest clubs in the world, Juventus, where he made 10 Champions League appearances.
I can’t say that I remember what kind of hype Appiah had back on Nov 11, 1995 when he made his debut, but I suspect there was a lot of excitement about him. You don’t play a kid who isn’t even 15 yet unless you think he has immense talent and potential. However, I know this: If that debut had taken place even 10 years later we all would remember the hype. In November ’95 only geeks and the truly obsessive were using the Internet beyond checking their email and patiently waiting three hours for the pixels to reveal what that photo was going to show.
In 2005, everyone was on the Internet and we had started to move into the hype first, substance last world that we currently live in. I do remember talking about the soccer poster boy for lost potential, Freddy Adu, in 2005.
Let’s not pile on Freddy’s soccer grave here, but we can all agree that the hype of the mid 2000s never really panned out for him. In fact, Adu’s biggest contribution to modern North American soccer has been to become a lesson to point to when hyping up young players.
“Pump the breaks, we don’t want to see ____ become another Freddy Adu,” is something you consistently hear whenever a young player breaks through.
It’s something we’ve heard in relation to the 2017 Gold Cup Golden Boot and Young Player of the tournament winner, Alphonso Davies. At just 16, he continues to be protected at every turn by both the Whitecaps and the CSA. The shadow of Adu looms large, despite the fact that Adu wasn’t a product of this country, nor of the MLS academy era.
There’s some good in that. You do want to manage a young player to a certain extent. At the Gold Cup, Davies’ play did fade as the tournament wore on. The quarterfinal was probably his least effective game.
But, here’s the thing. For every Adu there’s an Appiah. There is no direct correlation between debuting young and failing. There’s not even a direct connection between hype and failing. So, we need to treat Davies like his own man (boy?) and let his story tell itself.
As fans, we can also allow ourselves to be excited by not just Davies but by all the young players that are stepping up for Canada on both the men’s and women’s teams. Jordyn Huitema, Raheem Edwards, Deanna Rose and Davies are the future and the future, for once, looks pretty good. Be excited. Celebrate their accomplishments thus far and dream of a future with even more glory.
Davies story isn’t just one that’s being noticed in Canada. You don’t win a Golden Boot at a Confederation Championship event without ears perking up around the football world. When he becomes eligible to be transferred the names that are going to be attached to him are going to make long-term Canadian fans dizzy. That’s in the near future.
But, in the meantime Vancouver and Canadian fans should enjoy the remaining time we have with this kid and stop worrying about whether we’re putting too much pressure on him. Talent finds its way.
In short, pump the breaks less and spread the wings more.
Edited by Duane Rollins