By Madalyn Howitt
Since leaving Ottawa’s soccer pitches for the professional leagues of Europe, Jonathan David has quickly become one of the brightest stars in soccer.
The forward for Lille OSC in the French Ligue 1 division and member of the Canadian men’s national team has accomplished in three short years what takes many players their entire careers to achieve.
As an 18-year-old, David became the youngest Canadian to ever score for the men’s national team. At 21, he is now approaching the Canadian men’s national team’s all-time goal scoring record. He also helped carry Lille its first Ligue 1 championship title in a decade this season.
Playing in four matches this month for Canada, David kept a goal-a-game pace, thanks largely to a hat trick against Suriname on June 8.
While personally shutout, David also played near full games in both of Canada’s most recent two-leg series against Haiti — an opponent that David said in an interview with TSN is “always special” to play against, given that it’s where his parents are from and where he spent part of his childhood.
Canada beat Haiti 4-0 on aggregate, securing the team a spot in the final round of Concacaf World Cup qualifiers. Canada will now compete against seven remaining North American, Central American and Caribbean teams for one of three available spots at the 2022 World Cup. Those matches will be played from September to next March between breaks in the international schedule.
Here in Ottawa, David’s former coaches aren’t surprised by the mounting success he’s had on the international stage. They say not only was his exceptional talent clear early on, but his humble personality indicated he had the integrity to make it far in the professional world of soccer.
“He was exactly the type of player you want to coach; he listens and takes advice,” said Hanny El-Magraby, the senior coach for Ottawa’s Mundial FC. El-Magraby coached David for most of his youth soccer career, first with the Gloucester Hornets and then with the Ottawa Internationals.
“Jonathan knew what he wanted to accomplish and was willing to listen to people who had experience,” El-Magraby said.
That openness to learning and being mentored also helped him excel as a student athlete in Louis Riel Public High School’s unique sports-study program, which has helped train other elite local athletes like Vanessa Gilles, who will play for Canada’s women’s soccer team at the Tokyo Olympics.
Joé Fournier is the program director of soccer at Louis-Riel and remembers David as a quiet but dedicated player.
“He wasn’t a hard player to coach. He was extremely passionate,” Fournier said, adding that it was an amazing feeling watching David play his first international game on TV. “He was the type of student that would show up early and would leave late because he wanted to get as much time as possible on the field with the ball.”
“I enjoyed coaching the person, not just the player,” said El-Magraby of his time with David. “What impressed me most was him continuing to be the person that he was here and carrying that with him in Europe — leading by example.”
David is not only shining as a leader with Lille and Team Canada, but also as a positive example for young soccer players in his hometown of Ottawa.
“I think Ottawa has an opportunity to be a real source of talent for Canada,” said El-Magraby. “[Soccer] is a very difficult sport to break into, especially in Canada. Seeing Jonathan succeed helps you reinforce with the next generation of players what they need to do.”
Fournier has found that his students are becoming more interested in following international soccer leagues in the way that they follow other professional sports.
“Before, soccer was more of an in-between sport, like in-between hockey seasons,” Fournier said. “Now it’s like, soccer is the sport of choice.”
He credits David with being one of the reasons why the sport is gaining popularity in the city.
“His impact on soccer in Ottawa is huge. Jonathan is a big part of this [Canadian team’s] success, and I think they’re going have a huge influence on the future of the sport.”
El-Magraby also sees his youth players with Mundial FC watching David closely. “They feel like they’re cheering for one of their own. They’re always watching to see what he’s going to do next,” he said.
Through the fall and winter, David will surely be front and centre as Canada competes in the Concacaf final round qualifiers for the World Cup, which Canada made it to last in 1997.
Beyond hopes of a World Cup appearance next year though, Fournier and El-Magraby have no doubts that David will continue his meteoric rise in the sport.
“I think the sky is really the limit to achieve anything he really wants to achieve,” said El-Magraby. “He can be one of the best players in the world in a very short time.”
“I wouldn’t be surprised to see him in a major club very soon,” said Fournier. “Then we’ll see a lot of a lot more Jonathan David jerseys in Ottawa, Canada.”