Here’s Why Edmonton Has to Get to Know Dieu-Merci Michel

Soccer phenom emerged from homelessness, and is now turning heads in Portugal. Oh, and maybe he'll be Alphonso Davies's hip-hop partner one day, too
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Dieu-Merci Michel

Alphonso Davies calls him “Deucey Flows” because of his skills on the mic. But Dieu-Merci Michel hopes to one day take the field with Davies as teammates on the Canadian men’s national soccer side.

(But being Davies’ partner on a hip-hop track would be all right, too)

Michel, who came to prominence in Edmonton as a member of the BTB Soccer Academy, made the move to Portugal in 2022. He starred for Vitória Guimarães SC’s under-19 team. He scored 23 times in 34 games, and was asked to move up to the club’s second-tier professional team, where he scored in his first game, a headed goal in the 90th minute to tie a match.

“My coach growing up always told me that, when you get to the big moments of a game, that’s when the big players step up,” says Michel, who is back in Portugal getting ready for his second season of European football.

Playing in Europe has been a goal for Michel since he first started kicking a ball. As a kid, he’d written that his dream was to be playing across the Atlantic by the time he turned 19. Well, Michel is 19 right now.

But it was nothing but a rocky road.

Merci and his family moved to Edmonton from Calgary in 2014. Before that, the family spent a couple of years moving from boxing gym to boxing gym, sleeping on floors. After moving west from Montreal, they were homeless. Five of Merci’s brothers were with him. In total, he has six brothers and two sisters.

“I was five or six years old, so I just went back to school and then went back to gyms, I didn’t think too much about it,” says Merci. “But, now I look back and I realize how tough it was. It was just motivation for me.”

It was at one of those gyms where Merci first touched a soccer ball. His dad was dribbling with it, and dared his son to take it off of him. Merci dove in, and his father chipped it away.

“I swore then that I would never let him humiliate me like that again.”

It was as a U15 player at BTB where Michel was first noticed as a potential pro soccer prospect. Talal Al-Awaid is the former owner of BTB Academy. He’s now the director of operations and athlete recruitment for ATG Sports Management, the local super-agency founded by Nedal Huoseh. Davies was ATG’s first client.

Michel also impressed with the Victoria Highlanders club in British Columbia. He spent a bit of time training with FC Edmonton before that club disappeared. And then he did a tour of Europe clubs, training with Club Brugge in Belgium and Germany’s Bayern Munich, where Davies plays his pro soccer.

Michel stayed with Davies in Germany.

“He’s always got some advice,” says Michel. “I look at him like he’s my older brother.”

After a hectic first season in Portugal, Michel was asked to join the Canadian national team for training sessions. While he hasn’t played in national-team games, he got the chance to see what it’s like to rub shoulders with some of the best players this country has to offer.

“I was kind of star struck, to see players like [Jonathan] Osorio and [Steven] Vitoria. These are the players I see on TV. But I think the training went well. I felt like I fit in. And I think there’s a chance I can have an impact on the national team in the future.”

But, while Edmonton-raised players like Michel and Davies have moved to Europe, is it just the tip of the iceberg? And, for a city that just lost its professional soccer team — as FC Edmonton folded before the start of the 2023 Canadian Premier League season — what does it all mean?

Michel thinks there is plenty of good-enough-for-Europe talent at BTB alone, and we’re not speaking about the other big teams in the city. And, as those players emerge, he thinks the powers-that-be will recognize that Edmonton is a hub for Canadian soccer, and that a new professional club may be launched.

And he has this advice for young Edmonton players.

“We’re not far from them in Europe. We have got the talent. What we’ve got to work on is the details. That’s what counts in Europe — the details.”