Davies' World Cup hopes take hit
U.S. forward Charlie Davies' hopes of playing in the World Cup have taken a huge hit after the plan for him to play some part in his French club Sochaux's final two games was shelved.
"He won't play again this season in Ligue 1," Sochaux president Alexandre Lacombe told local paper Est-Republicain on Thursday. "He is fine and that is the main thing. Since leaving his wheelchair, he has gone through a lot to get fit again. But it's a bit early to say when he will play again."
Davies had hoped to play for the reserve team at the end of April, but he has yet to take part in any contact exercises in training and last week had tests after feeling pain in his stomach. They came back clear.
"It's been very hard for Charlie, as every time we up the workload, he gets very tired," Sochaux coach Francis Gillot told L'Equipe.
Davies had used the incentive of a World Cup appearance as motivation for an astonishing recovery from the car accident last October that killed one passenger, Ashley Roberta, and left the striker with a broken leg, a dislocated elbow, a broken nose, multiple facial fractures and a ruptured bladder.
"He's been making steady progress and we've managed to bring him back into some of the squad sessions," Sochaux's club doctor, Philippe Pasquier, told SI.com. "It was very important for him to have that contact with the other players, so he could feel part of things -- but also to show him how much progress he still has to make."
Life in France had started so well for Davies. When Sochaux sold striker Mevlut Erding to Paris Saint-Germain for $12 million last summer, it needed someone to replace not only his goals but also his hero status in the team. Erding had been Sochaux's top scorer the previous two seasons and had struck the game-winner against Grenoble on the final day of last season to keep the team in Ligue 1.
Two games into this season, Sochaux thought it had found its man. In his first home appearance, Davies came on as a second-half substitute and scored two goals against French champion Bordeaux in a 3-2 defeat. Sochaux's head of recruitment, Bernard Genghini, the former Euro 1984 winner with France, took credit for beating more than one Bundesliga side to signing Davies last summer.
Davies's battling spirit on the pitch and ready smile off it quickly won over the fans, whose initial response had been one of curiosity to the presence of an American international on the team. Sochaux is an unexciting industrial region in eastern France known for its vehicle-manufacturing plants. It is not used to American guests.
Though Sochaux won the League Cup in 2007, its main aim is usually to avoid relegation from Ligue 1. It does this by bringing through talented youngsters from its academy (alumni include Benoit Pedretti and Pierre-Alain Frau, who both went on to win the title with Lyon) and playing them alongside more experienced French players. This season, Stephane Dalmat and captain Jeremy Brechet have taken those roles.
Davies' absence has loomed large: Sochaux is currently in 15th place in Ligue 1, 10 points clear of the relegation zone. It's not a leap of faith to suggest that had Davies been available, the team would have fared much better (after all, he is only two goals behind Dalmat, its top scorer, who has scored four).
The team has creativity in the midfield, provided by youngsters Marvin Martin, Ryad Boudebouz and Dalmat, but has missed someone like Davies to apply the finishing touch. Following the injuries to Davies, Sochaux broke its transfer record in January to buy another striker, Ideye Brown, for $5.7 million from Swiss side Neuchatel Xamax. Brown has taken time to settle in, and needed 11 league games to net his first goal.
"There have been times when I've watched matches and thought, 'I could have helped in that situation,' " Davies said at a Sochaux press conference in March. "So from that point of view it's been frustrating."
The admission from Lacombe that he won't play again this season will come as a hammer blow to Davies, who had said to Ligue1.com on his road to recovery: "[My goal is] to go to the World Cup, because, you know, to get so close, to have it in your hands and to have it taken away from you ... I couldn't live with that."
Pasquier was keen to put a positive spin on the news and wanted to remind Davies that all is not lost just yet.
"It's already miraculous when you see how far he's come," he said. "Charlie had a great deficit on a muscular level and a huge lack of strength after the accident, so he needs to work on lots of things. He's a very dynamic, explosive, type of player and to get those qualities back is not something that comes overnight. Obviously, the World Cup is a huge goal for him. It will be difficult but we are still holding out hope."
Along with his increasing number of supporters on social networking sites, Davies has also earned the respect and support of fans all around France.
One French reporter was impressed after Davies recently promised him that he would come back "faster, stronger, better."
"Like the bionic man?" the reporter asked.
"That's exactly right!" Davies said.
There is still time for that to happen. But it now looks increasingly unlikely that it will be in South Africa this summer.
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