Thursday 23 April 2020, 11:05

David: This is possibly the most talented Canada team of all time

  • Jonathan David is one of the most promising young forwards in world football

  • The Brooklyn-born Canadian international has set records left and right

  • chats exclusively with the deadly Gent-based striker

Whenever a young player generates hype, there’s always a degree of doubt as to whether it is founded or whether we’re all getting a little ahead of ourselves. In Jonathan David’s case, that hype is based on a stack of legitimate, jaw-dropping statistics.

David turned 20 just over three months ago and with 28 goals for club and country in 2019 he became Canada’s highest-scoring forward over the last 20 years. At the age of 19, he won the golden boot at the Concacaf Gold Cup (six goals – a national record) and was named Canadian Player of the Year. We’ll say it once more: he was 19.

It appears as if David was made to score goals. At club level, his move to European football has gone beyond what any promising young forward would even dream of. Just as he did for the senior national team (he scored a brace), David scored on his league and UEFA Europa League debuts for Gent.

Ever since, his goalscoring record with De Buffalo’s reads like something out of FIFA 20: 60 appearances, 30 goals. And as things stand, David sits at the top of the Belgian top flight's goalscoring chart, level with Antwerp’s Dieumerci Mbokani on 18 goals. chatted exclusively with David, whose pure love of playing the game was summed up clearly in his response to what his greatest challenge is during the COVID-19 pandemic. “For me, it’s just not playing football.” Can you walk us through your footballing journey? How did your love for the game start?

Jonathan David: I was always playing when I was younger. I didn’t start playing for a team officially until I was ten. Before it was mostly playing at home alone with my dad or some friends, but it was never a team with a lot of people. I remember when I started playing in Ottawa, it was a lot of meeting new people and just having fun playing. [Editor’s note: David played for several Ottawa-based clubs, namely Gloucester Dragons Soccer, Ottawa Gloucester SC Hornets, Ottawa Internationals and Louis Riel High School]. That’s what I loved to do. I remember going out to games, laughing and having fun and meeting some friends from school that I was playing against.

Who inspired you to play? Did you have any mentors who helped your development and pushed you to keep progressing?

When I was about four, five, six years old it was my dad. I was always with my family. My dad was playing, too, but I would also watch Ronaldinho on TV. I really enjoyed watching Barcelona, so when Ronaldinho was there at that time, he was just an unbelievable player who always had a smile on his face when he was playing. He gave me the joy to see that and really want to do the same thing. Once I was ten or 11, it was my coach [Hanny El Magraby] who was with me through all the years before I moved to Belgium. He was my mentor who helped me concentrate to keep pushing to get better every day.

How did your move to Gent specifically come about?

I went on trial to a few clubs, which didn’t go as planned, before I found Gent. My agent and I discussed everything and he told me Gent saw my videos and were interested in bringing me in for a trial. That’s really how everything started. From there I just had to get ready mentally, physically to get sharper every day at training to be ready for the opportunity.

How do you like living in Gent? How have you found the move personally?

It’s always hard when you move away from home. When I first came here I was living in like a family hotel and there were other players from the team there, so mentally it wasn’t so difficult because I would always have a couple of friends from the team to talk with if I felt lonely, or we would do activities together or go out in the city and go shopping. From that point of view it was good mentally because I always had someone giving me company. It’s a very beautiful city with a lot of good people who are welcoming and friendly and always willing to help. I've been here a little over two years, so now I also call it ‘home’ here.

You seemed to always have had your eyes set on playing Europe. Where did that desire come from?

It was all about watching a lot of football on TV growing up. Watching La Liga, Premier League and all the best players and teams played there, so for me when I was younger it was always my goal to play in Europe. Also my coach always helped me keep my eye on that goal because he told us that was his goal as a coach, to develop players to go play in Europe to become the best. He told me, ‘Remember what you told me when you first got here’. He kept me very focused on that.

Jonathan David of Canada dribbles the ball 

By all accounts your time in Belgium so far has been nothing but a huge success. Have you surprised yourself with your lightning-quick progression?

In a way, yes, because I think in these last two years everything has gone really fast, even when I was playing for the U-21s. Sometimes I would surprise myself, but I think that on the other hand I worked hard to be here and I always had confidence in my ability, so from one standpoint what I’m doing is amazing and sometimes I even surprise myself, but on the other hand I also knew it could happen if I kept doing what I was doing.

What exactly is the golden bull award?

It’s something in Belgium that, at the end of each matchday, the person who is at the top of the league for goals gets the image of a bull on the back of your jersey. That represents you being top scorer. They also do something like that for most assists in the league where they put your number in gold. It’s something nice because it’s a memory you can always have. It’s a nice touch. I have only one so far because I only kept it for one week because we had the same amount as goals but he had more away goals than me, so that’s why he was the one wearing it.

Canada have been making big strides recently. What are your thoughts on the team and their chances of qualifying for the World Cup for the first time since 1986?

Right now we’re in a good place. This is possibly the most talented group from Canada of all time, or at least a long time. We know we have very good players and we all believe, and the coach believes, that we can accomplish this. The win against the USA was a reminder that we can compete with the very best. This is something we can look back on and refer back on to tell ourselves that we can really qualify for Qatar 2022 because that’s the goal for everyone.

What are your goals as a team, whenever we resume the qualifying campaign for Qatar 2022?

From the very beginning, all coach Herdman has wanted is to take the country somewhere it hasn’t been before and hasn’t been to in a long time. We just want to put it in a better place than where we found it. Every time we come into camp we want to do something better, whether it’s getting records or dominating a team in possession, it’s just about putting the team in a better place than we found it.

What about that win against USA? How important was that to the team’s confidence and what are some of your lasting memories from that night?

That was a really big one for us because it was obviously our biggest test yet. They’re a big rival and our neighbours, so it was a massive game that I think every fan anticipated. There’s a bit more oomph on the game and we wanted to go out and prove to ourselves and to the people of Canada that this is something that is realistic and that we can really do. We were all confident going into that game, we knew our game plan and we believed in it. It’s proof we’re capable of doing it and it was a really special night. It was a great feeling. Everyone was happy after the game and we all celebrated.

How would you describe this current crop of Canadian national team players, and what identity and culture do you want to have?

We want to show that we can play good football and we can adapt our system depending on the game. We want to show that we’re not afraid to play against any country. We want to try and impose ourselves and not back off and stay back and defend.

When you score goals, you point to the sky with your eyes closed. It obviously means a lot to you. If you don’t mind sharing, what’s behind that?

My dad told me when I was younger and started playing and scoring goals to point to the sky to thank God for what he has given me and the opportunity to be doing what I love for a job. From that day on, after every goal, I will do it.

Gent's Jonathan David celebrates after scoring in the Jupiler Pro League