Canada’s Ismael Kone completes transfer to Watford from CF Montreal

Croatia's Mateo Kovacic, right, runs with the ball past Canada's Ismael Kone during the World Cup group F soccer match between Croatia and Canada, at the Khalifa International Stadium in Doha, Qatar, Sunday, Nov. 27, 2022. (Thanassis Stavrakis/AP)

The World Cup has helped another young Canadian move abroad.

Midfielder Ismael Kone is leaving CF Montreal for England’s Watford, becoming the second member of Canada’s World Cup squad to switch teams since leaving Qatar.

Watford, which plays in England’s second-tier Championship, said the 20-year-old Kone will join the club Jan. 1 on a 4 1/2-year contract.

Watford, whose honorary life president is Elton John, currently sits fourth in the Championship at 9-6-6.

Kone follows former Montreal teammate Alistair Johnston in heading to Europe. The 24-year-old fullback/wingback’s transfer to Scotland’s Glasgow Celtic was confirmed Saturday.

Kone 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.

After the Croatia game, he said he had been unfazed at the prospect of matching up against a star-studded midfield in Luka Modric (Real Madrid), Mateo Kovacic (Chelsea) and Marcelo Brozovic (Inter Milan).

“I just see good players, players I want to compare myself too,” Kone said. “They’re players that play on a big stage in Europe. But there’s no fear playing against them. It’s only enjoyment. It’s just going out there and having fun, I guess.”

For Kone, the transfer to England is another step forward in his rapid rise.

“I’m only 20 and I get to play on a world stage,” he said in Qatar. “It’s unbelievable.”

“I didn’t have a professional contract two years ago but here I am,” he added.

Kone, whose deal with Montreal was for two years with options in 2023 and 2024, made a modest US$68,125 as a rookie in 2022.

Born in the Ivory Coast, Kone was seven when he came to Canada and signed a pro contact with Montreal, his hometown club, in August 2021. He made his Major League Soccer debut in February. 

Olivier Renard, Montreal’s vice-president and chief sporting officer, called Kone “a great example for young Montrealers and Quebecers.”

“We are very happy for Ismael. Both his evolution as a player and the outcome of this transfer have been very fast,” Renard, said in a statement.

“The club has helped him grow as a player, but also as an individual, and I am proud of his progression. When the talent is there, it is not a question of age or experience. He made his choice from among several options available to him.”

Kone opened his international account with a highlight-reel goal in a 2-2 draw with Bahrain on Nov. 11 in a pre-tournament warmup in Manama.

Kamal Miller, with a long ball from deep in Canada territory, found his Montreal teammate, who used a deft first touch to race past a defender and steam toward goal without interference, beating Bahrain ‘keeper Ebrahim Lutfalla with a high shot.

He made his senior debut for Canada in a 1-0 loss at Costa Rica in March.

Kone played for CS St-Laurent before joining the Montreal academy, signing his pro contract soon after.

He played 26 games during the regular season this year, including 18 starts, with two goals and five assists. He started both of Montreal’s playoff games as well as three of the team’s four games in the CONCACAF Champions League, scoring against Orlando City and Mexico’s Santos Laguna.

The exodus from Montreal continues with Kone and Johnston following U.S. star midfielder Djordje Mihailovic, who was sold to Dutch club AZ Alkmaar. His transfer is also effective Jan. 1.

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