LOSC Lille's Jonathan David on his journey from Haiti to the UEFA Champions League
Tuesday, 22 February 2022
LOSC's Canada international forward talks through his footballing journey, and says: "Being a good man is always the most important thing."
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Every time he hears the UEFA Champions League anthem, LOSC Lille forward Jonathan David gets another reminder of just how far he has come in the footballing world. "It gives you goosebumps and, you know, it makes you realise you're at the top of the game right now," the 22-year-old said in an interview for FedEx's Next In Line, which showcases the stars of the future.
The Canadian international has not taken the direct route to the top. Born in New York, he was still a baby when he moved to Haiti, before emigrating to Canada with his family aged six – and it took a few more years before he eventually got involved with 'soccer'. "We used to play American football," he recalls. "I first got into football when I was ten. My dad decided to just put me in a team."
David's interest was piqued by watching Ronaldinho, Didier Drogba, Samuel Eto'o and Thierry Henry in the Champions League, but it was coach Hanny El-Magraby at his first club, Ottawa Gloucester, who helped to nurture his ambition. "When we started when we were 11, the message he gave to our group was, 'I'm trying to develop players to play in Europe,'" David explains. "Not to go to the MLS academies, but go to Europe and make a career."
Magraby used video footage to interest European clubs in his players, and set David up for trials with Salzburg and Stuttgart before he signed for Belgian side Gent aged 18. Within seven months, he was playing first-team football, scoring as a substitute on his debut against Zulte Waregem in August 2018. He remembers: "There was a cross and the ball came back to me, and I just finished and it went in. And I think, at that moment, I didn't even know what I was thinking. It was just pure joy."
David ended up scoring 30 goals in 60 Belgian league games for Gent before LOSC signed him in the summer of 2020. It was a step up in class, but the forward took to it well, hitting 13 goals as his side unexpectedly clinched the French league title. "As the season went on, we just found ourselves at the top end, and we knew we still had to play Lyon in one of our five last games," David says.
"This was maybe the most memorable game of the season. Being down 2-0 and coming back and winning 3-2. After we won that game, I think we knew within ourselves that we're winning the league this season."
LOSC seem unlikely to defend their title, but David has kept up a solid goalscoring rate this term, including three in the Champions League, where his side are set to face Chelsea in the round of 16 after surprising many by winning their group. "We knew what it meant," David says. "Not only for us but for the club, because it was the first time the club finished first in the group stage. And I think as a player, anywhere you go, you always want to leave your handprints on the club."
However, if he is leaving his mark on the top end of the game, David has not forgotten where he came from, and he is keen to help out with causes back in Haiti. "I think it goes back to what my coach told me at first," he says. "Football is important, but he always told me: 'Being a good man is always the most important thing because people remember you by the way you are and how you act, and not necessarily how you play on the pitch.'"