Person of Interest: New Barcelona signee Ballou Tabla

Ballou-Tabla

Ballou Tabla in action for the Montreal Impact. (Canadian Press)

One of Major League Soccer’s brightest prospects is off to Spain.

The Montreal Impact announced Thursday that it has completed the transfer of midfielder Ballou Tabla to Spanish club FC Barcelona for an undisclosed fee.

Here’s what you need to know about this young soccer star…

Full name: Ballou Jean-Yves Tabla
Position: Midfielder/winger
Age: 18 (March 31, 1999)
Height: Five-foot-nine || Weight: 154 pounds
Contract status: Tabla has signed a three-year deal (with an option for two more years) with Barcelona B, the reserve team of FC Barcelona that competes in the Spanish second division. The release clause in his contract stands at 25 million euros during his first three years, and 75 million euros if he extends his contract.

Life with the Montreal Impact

Tabla joined the Montreal Impact’s youth academy in August 2012. He left the club to join CS Panellinios, a local amateur side, before he rejoined the Impact U-18 side in April 2015. He played with the Impact’s farm club, FC Montreal, in the second-tier USL the following season.

Tabla played one MLS campaign with the Impact, scoring two goals and tallying a pair of assists in 21 games (11 as a starter) in 2017.

Is he that good?

Tabla was considered one of the hottest young products in MLS while with Montreal, and he was being tracked by several big clubs in Europe, including Premier League champions Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester City.

In fact, he caused a stir last summer when the Impact turned down a transfer offer for him. Tabla had been seeking a move to Europe and when he did not show up for practice it was interpreted as an attempt to pressure Impact to sell him. He later took to social media and posted an apology for his actions on Twitter.

What’s the deal with Barcelona B?

Signing with Barcelona B might not sound like a big deal, but it actually is – it is essentially the feeder team for FC Barcelona, and is viewed as an integral part of the Catalan club’s global organization.

Iconic Barcelona players such as Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta, Xavi and Pep Guardiola (who also coached Barcelona B), spent time at Barcelona B before graduating to the first team.

Current Toronto FC star Victor Vazquez also played for Barcelona B.

What makes Tabla so special?

He’s quick and nimble, has accelerating speed when the ball is at his feet, and plays with a teenager’s sense of fearlessness.

Here’s an interesting fact

He became the youngest player in Impact franchise history, at 17 years and 338 days, to play in an MLS game when he debuted last March against the San Jose Earthquakes.

Canada or Ivory Coast?

Born in the Ivory Coast, Tabla moved to Canada as a child and grew up in Montreal. He has played for Canada at the under-17 and under-20 levels, and was named the Canadian U-17 and U-20 Male Player of the Year in 2014 and 2016.

However, he has yet to be capped by the senior team. Former Canadian national team manager Octavio Zambrano, who was fired earlier this month, has been in talks with Tabla to try to convince him to play for Canada instead of the Ivory Coast, his birth nation.

“Unfortunately with him we’ve suffered a bit of a setback because he’s being courted by some big clubs in Europe, and he is keeping his options open with the Ivory Coast. I have spoken with him and I have expressed my opinion that his best international option is to play for Canada, without any doubt,” Zambrano told Sportsnet last summer.

“And I don’t say that simply as the coach of Canada. Obviously, I have a vested interest in what he decides to do. But If I was an outsider looking in, I would say there’s no way you can compare what the Ivory Coast can do versus what Canada can give him, especially with the 2026 World Cup likely coming here. It’s a no-brainer for me.”

He later added: “He has people around him that are advising him otherwise. It’s the kind of thing that we have to let play out on its own.”

What they’re saying about him

“We take a lot of pride in seeing a young player, developed in our [youth academy], climb the ladder all the way to the first team and realize his dream to play in Europe with a big club like Barcelona.” – Montreal Impact president Joey Saputo.

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