Rob Friend hailed "world class" Alphonso Davies and insisted Bayern Munich's treble-winning star has put Canada on the map after years of disrespect.
Davies has established himself as one of the most exciting players in European football since joining Bayern from MLS outfit Vancouver Whitecaps in 2019.
The 19-year-old speedster, who capped a fine domestic campaign with the 2019-20 Bundesliga Rookie of the Year award, has been a revelation on the left side of Bayern's defence, helping them to an eighth consecutive league crown, DFB-Pokal success and Champions League glory.
Davies – born in a refugee camp in Ghana after his parents fled their native Liberia before moving to Canada when he was five and eventually attaining citizenship in 2017 – became the first Canada international to play in a Champions League final as Bayern defeated Paris Saint-Germain to claim the treble.
Friend earned 32 caps for Canada between 2003 and 2011 and the 39-year-old former forward, who is chief executive of Canadian Premier League team Pacific FC, marvelled at Davies' impact.
"It's unbelievable," Friend told Stats Perform News. "I can certainly tell you sitting here in Canada, being part of the Canadian game currently with the Canadian Premier League which I'm involved in and really trying to grow the game, what he's done singlehandedly as a Canadian player at his age, it's going to be very hard to repeat for any young Canadian.
"If you told me a year-and-a-half ago that we were going to have a young Canadian winning the Champions League and starting, we all would've laughed. His growth in the last couple of years has honestly been a joy to watch as a former national team player, being involved in the game on a business side here. Once in a while, it takes a player like that to put this country on the map. We've never been a footballing country. Our national team has always sort of struggled at international level, never played on the world stage at the World Cup. It's gonna take once in a while a country like this to be put on the map and be respected.
"I can certainly tell you that what he's done has opened up the door for a lot of young Canadians. I'm getting a lot of calls, asking if there's another Alphonso out there. Is Canada a hotbed for young talent? Even you look at Jonathan David, young Canadian who just transferred to Lille. A bigger transfer than Alphonso. Those are two of the top young players in Europe and they're Canadian. I would certainly say there are more Canadians out there. It's challenging when we're not making the World Cup to be on that level. We need more young Canadians going off to Europe."
Friend, who played for Bundesliga clubs Borussia Monchengladbach, Hertha Berlin and Eintracht Frankfurt in Europe, added: "It attests to his personality and the adversity he's gone through in his life, being an immigrant coming to Canada but also being a proud Canadian and representing this country. He is very grateful, him and his family. In the final on the stage he had the Canadian flag around him.
"Sitting back as a fan and a former player, I'm very proud he is representing Canada so well on and off the field. He's just a joy to watch. It's going to be fun to watch him over his career. Hopefully he has the luck, with injuries etc. I think he is world class already but you have to sustain that if you want to be at the top level year in, year out.
"Hopefully it opens up the door for more Canadians. That could honestly be one of his biggest achievements if he can help young Canadians because I certainly know you're at a disadvantage as soon as you walk into Europe with a Canadian passport. I would always joke that if I had a Brazilian passport I would have received double the offers I had. The wind is against you as a Canadian walking into Europe because they don't respect us as a country but he is certainly opening the doors and will provide more opportunities for Canadians moving forward."Published 16 Sep 2020, 20:06 IST