Two years ago Jonathan David was still playing amateur football in his hometown Ottawa, Canada. Today, he’s the top scorer of the Belgian top-tier, has 11 goals in 12 caps for Canada and is one of Europe’s most sought after talents. This is a scouting report on KAA Gent’s Jonathan David.
Alphonso Davies has lit the Bundesliga and European stage on fire this season with his lightning speed, dribbles and his impact on both ends of the pitch – all whilst making his first season in the left-back position and in a new league.
But in Davies shadow – as far as North American players in Europe goes – there’s been another Canadian prospect who’s been the talk of the town in a different part of Europe: KAA Gent’s 20-year-old attacking midfielder Jonathan David.
David moved to KAA Gent at age 17 after having impressed the club’s scouts at the Toulon Tournament in 2017 with the Canadian youth national team. This, whilst still playing in the amateur league with Ottawa Internationals back home in Ottawa, Canada. He moved to Belgium in January 2018 but was restricted to training with Gent’s youth team for the first six months due to FIFA’s regulations that dictate that non-EU players must be at least 18-years-old before playing professionally for a European club. However, that was a blessing in disguise, as David has revealed in an interview afterward that those six months were crucial for him to adapt to the Belgian style of play.
When the time came for him to make his professional debut, he made it with style. David came on towards the end of a game against Zulte-Waregem in the second match-week of the Belgian Jupiler League and scored the equalizer in the 95th minute. He followed that up with another four goals in the following four games, a goal in his Europa League debut, and ended his debut season with 14 goals and 5 assists in 43 appearances. A goal or assist ever 120 min.
This season (2019-20), his sophomore season, David leveled up astronomically and became the Belgian Jupiler League’s top scorer with 18 goals and 8 assists in 25 games before the league was suspended – and ultimately ended – due to the coronavirus, with a goal or assist every 74 minutes.
Before the season was announced as over, David averaged 4.2 dribbles, 2.5 shots taken, 2.4 key passes made, 3.2 tackles attempted and 4 ball recoveries per 90 throughout the 2019-20 season.
David’s senior debut with the Canadian national team in August 2018 wasn’t any less disappointing than his professional debut with Gent, as he scored a brace in an 8-0 victory over the US Virgin Islands. David then went on to have a record year with the Canadian national team, scoring 11 goals and making 5 assists in his first 12 caps. That meant the most goals by a Canadian player ever in a single calendar year and makes him the 4th highest scorer for the Canadian national team in history after Ali Gerba (15), Tosaint Ricketts (17) and Dwayne de Rosario (19). His 28 goals for club and country throughout the 2019 calendar year make him Canada’s highest-scoring forward in a single year the last 20 years.
That reaped fruit for young David, who, contrary to what many might think, was named the Canadian Player of The Year in 2019 – not his compatriot Alphonso Davies.
Style of play
David is a very versatile player, but his preferred position is as a number 10 or as a second striker and it’s the central positions that make him stand out. For Gent, he mainly plays as a number 10 in 4-4-2 diamond, but he’s also been played on the wing in a front three, second striker with two strikers up top and left midfielder in a classic 4-4-2.
David’s style of play is a mixture of an attacking midfielder and second striker, regardless if he’s deployed as an attacking midfielder or as a second striker. He tends to drop deep in central spaces to collect the ball, and when he has the ball, he either quickly distributes it forward or makes his man and transfers the ball through the central channels with his brilliant physique and blistering pace. His immense pace and quick acceleration make him a very dangerous alternative on counters or to put the ball on in deep spaces for him to run on.
If deployed at the wing, David tends to stay wide to create 1v1 situations when he gets the ball. With the help of his change of pace, body feints, dribbling abilities, technique and agility, David is very unpredictable in 1v1. From the right-wing, David opts to cut inside to get a shot in on goal with his left foot, and from the left-wing, he opts to go deep towards the byline and get a cross off into the box.
Overall, David is a more goalscoring number 10 than a creative number 10. His assists mainly come from long, fast, runs down the pitch and then at the last second he flicks the ball inside the area behind the defender stepping out to meet him. But he has also, as mentioned above, been known to get assists from the byline with his rather precise crosses or from the area just outside of the penalty box with quick one-two collaborations with the forwards or wingers.
It’s hard to narrow down David’s strengths as there are so many. But the main ones must be unpredictability, pace, movement, finishing, technique, composure and intelligence. But also his mature-decision making and ability to use that in full speed.
As mentioned earlier, David is very skilled with both feet. This makes him very unpredictable when it comes to dribbling, finishing, passing, choice of directions, etc. He’s not really restricted by having to go a certain direction or to use a certain foot. This also makes David hard to exploit, as you cannot weaken him or take him out of the game by pressuring him to a certain area of the pitch or to use a weaker foot. This, combined with his immense pace, makes him a nightmare to defend. It also makes him draw the foul well.
David is also a precise and clinical finisher with both feet from both short- and long-range. His trademark finishes are in the rear corner – either high or low – from the angle he’s found with the ball. This too is very much benefited from his composure and two-footedness, as he can take the shots from all angles and do it almost equally as well with both feet.
The next strength worth mentioning is his intelligence, which mainly is showcased through his presence in the box and his efficient movements. In the box, David tends to make quick dummy runs, or body feints, to fool his defender and then tap an incoming cross into the back of the net. He operates with such deception and directness in these situations and is very hard to mark because of it. But with that said, many of his goals have also come from late runs into the box.
His vertical and horizontal movements in general, his understanding of spaces and how to exploit them is so, so good. The way he takes runs in the offensive zone to either create spaces and chances for himself or his teammates is so impressive and is a sight for sour eyes to observe.
David is not a stranger either to set himself up and create chances for himself with his nice technique, first touch, and flair. He can make his defender 1v1 or turn a failed pass into a scoring opportunity and has done so on many occasions.
There aren’t many flaws in David’s game. At least not any that won’t grow better with time and experience as he’s still only in his second year as a professional footballer. But one weakness to his game which he could benefit from strengthening is his aerial duels and headers.
It may not be anything essential for his style of play to work, obviously, he’s managing well regardless, but if he improved his headers he could become an even greater threat and use that on his late runs into the box or when he operates on small spaces with dummy runs and body feints.
David is a brilliant final-third player. The physical and technical qualities of his game combined with his intelligence and versatility could see him become a very complete forward on a high European level in the next few years.
Becoming a star in the MLS was never an objective fo the 20-year-old Canadian starlet. He was always determined to make it big in Europe. And after lighting up teams domestically in Belgium and in the Europa League throughout the 2019-20 season, scoring 37 goals in his 83 games for Gent, and scoring an astonishing 11 goals in 12 senior caps for Canada, that dream is more than likely to become reality this summer.