Ismael Koné grateful to CF Montreal for giving him his start

CF Montreal’s Ismael Kone reacts after scoring against Orlando City SC during second half MLS playoff soccer action in Montreal, Sunday, Oct. 16, 2022. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

In March of 2021, 19-year-old Ismael Koné was invited to CF Montreal’s first-team training camp. 

A year and a half later, the Canadian international’s profile has skyrocketed, earning a call-up to Canada’s first World Cup squad since 1986 and a move to English club Watford F.C.

While a new adventure awaits Koné in Europe, he says he will always fondly remember breaking into the professional ranks with his hometown team.

“I’ve always wanted to play in Europe. The biggest leagues, the Champions League Europa League, this is how I get there,” Koné said during a video conference Thursday. “The teammates, the group, and the coach I had (in Montreal) all helped so much. Everyone around was on a mission and we knew what to do. I’m grateful for that team and I’ll say it until the end of my career.”

Born in the Ivory Coast, Koné was seven when he came to Canada. He made his CF Montreal debut on Feb. 23, scoring in a 3-0 CONCACAF Champions League win over Mexican side Santos Laguna. He improved at an astonishing rate over the course of the following Major League Soccer season.

He saw action in each of Canada’s three games at the World Cup, coming off the bench against Belgium, Croatia and Morocco. He has won nine caps in all.

Between his scintillating performances and his first international call-up at such a young age, it appeared Koné’s days in Montreal were numbered. 

“His progression was unbelievably quick,” CF Montreal president Gabriel Gervais said. “Of course, we saw his potential, but he still stunned us by how quickly he improved.”

There was interest from another Premier League hopeful in Sheffield United earlier this summer, but the move ultimately broke down due to the transfer window closing and Koné wanting to finish out the season with Montreal.

Watford, which is currently fourth in England’s second-tier League Championship, ended up being the club that won his services.

“They had an offer in for some time now but finishing out the season with Montreal and the World Cup were my main focus,” Koné said. “I wanted to go to a club that really wanted me and had a proven track record of improving and re-selling young players, and I’m happy with my choice.”

While Koné has yet to speak with Watford manager Slaven Bilić, it appears as though he will be taking on a box-to-box role in the midfield. 

It’s a role he has learned over the course of his time in Montreal, having come to the club as a winger and offensive midfielder. Koné’s defensive game improved significantly playing alongside the likes of Victor Wanyama and Samuel Piette in Montreal.

Koné will report to Watford for training on Dec. 26 and will be available for selection on Jan. 7 FA Cup match against Reading F.C.

When submitting content, please abide by our submission guidelines, and avoid posting profanity, personal attacks or harassment. Should you violate our submissions guidelines, we reserve the right to remove your comments and block your account. Sportsnet reserves the right to close a story’s comment section at any time.