(Bordeaux, France) We invite you to repeat the following sentence out loud to yourself to be sure you assimilate it properly: Quebecer Ismaël Koné was the best player on the field during the France-Friendly match. Canada, Sunday evening, in Bordeaux.

You read correctly. On the lawn of the Matmut Atlantique stadium, during this 0-0, with as equals the elite players of the elite Antoine Griezmann, Olivier Giroud, Eduardo Camavinga, Jules Koundé or N’Golo Kanté, it is the young Quebecer of 21 years which looked the best.

Don’t read this as chauvinism. Because it’s not just our statement.

“Is it normal that in this midfield, the one you see the most this evening is Ismaël Koné? », asked Daniel Riolo at the microphone of L’After-RMC, one of the most listened to podcasts in France. A question which testifies as much to the brilliance of the Canadian as to the general reaction in France towards this performance of the Blues.

“I think he was the best player on the pitch, honestly,” compatriot Alistair Johnston confirmed after the match.

Koné completed 41 of his 44 passes in 84 minutes of play. He won 8 of his 14 duels. By simple eye test, he did not appear the least bit intimidated on Sunday, despite the strong opposition in front of him.

“He was a ball-progressing machine,” Johnston analyzed. He got the ball and carried it forward, passing or dribbling. […] There is no limit for him [the sky is the limit]. »

It’s hard to believe that barely three years ago, Ismaël Koné was playing in the Quebec semi-pro with CS Saint-Laurent, his “family”, before being recruited by Olivier Renard at CF Montreal.

“For me, it was the start of something,” the man who now plays for Watford, in the English second division, told La Presse on the eve of the match.

He joins us in the lobby of the Hôtel des Canadiens in Bordeaux. Sitting on both sides of a raised table, we chat for about ten minutes before bringing up the subject of his training club, which had a good run in the Canadian Championship until facing Toronto FC this spring. It is at this moment that he will speak with the most candor.

“I’ve always said that in Montreal, there is so, so, so much talent! says the midfielder, lowering his head back with energy as he says these words. It’s a shame that we young people don’t always take the opportunity, and we don’t realize how far we can go. But also, there’s a bit of a lack of that help to take the kid’s hand and take him to the next level. »

Two days before our interview, Koné also had the start against the Netherlands. Another friendly match, but with a very different result: Canada lost 4-0, conceding all 4 goals in the second period.

Beyond the result and the performance, this match had a special connotation for Koné. He tells us that it was the first time in his life that he was in the starting lineup with Moïse Bombito, another Quebecer who played in St-Lo during the same period, but who had a more successful career. slow before reaching the pros. Bombito, at 24, is blossoming on defense with the Colorado Rapids, and on the defensive walls of Canada; he was a starter for both games, and was praised by Jesse Marsch.

” We are here ! Koné reacts. Honestly, I talked to Moïse a little about our journey before the match against the Netherlands. He was even the one who told me that it was the first time we started a match together. It was important for us to remember where we came from and realize where we were. It’s not every day that you play these matches. We had a little moment. »

It’s not every day that you get to speak like this to this rising Canadian soccer star either. The last time, as far as we are concerned, was in the fall of 2022, in the cafeteria of the Nutrilait Center, at the dawn of the CF Montreal playoff match against Orlando City, a match during which he would score the goal winner. At that time, he did not have his dreadlocks, which he ties in a ponytail behind his head, and which he will mix and untangle throughout our interview.

In 2022, it was before the Qatar World Cup. Before his transfer to Watford.

At the time, if his transfer to England materialized, he revealed to us that he wanted to surprise his mother, his “great friend”, the one who brought him with him from the Ivory Coast to Canada at age 7 to escape the civil war. He asked us to keep quiet about it, to keep it secret.

Today, Koné can say it: he bought her a house in Montreal, in her neighborhood of Notre-Dame-de-Grâce. She moved there last February.

He does not elaborate on the subject, but emphasizes that she was obviously “very happy”.

So we move on to the reasons that allowed Koné to offer him this beautiful gift. Despite a “challenging” year and a half on the sporting level at Watford, he says he had “a lot of reflection” on himself, on his “game”, on his “way of seeing football”.

A downright inevitable introspection, as four coaches have come to the club – of which Elton John is the most famous supporter – since Koné’s arrival. And with the still unresolved goal of moving to the Premier League.

“There were times when it was a little more complicated,” he said, noting uneven playing time.

The Canadian international has earned 3,500 minutes in total since arriving in January 2023, out of a possible 5,900 in 65 games.

English Championship soccer is “much more physical than tactical,” explains Koné, who has “an image of soccer that is very ball-on-the-ground, where you have to try to outsmart your opponent.”

Samuel Piette, former teammate in Montreal, has actually seen an evolution in him.

“I think he’s the same player as before, with a little more confidence and maturity,” submits the CFM captain, met at the hotel. It imposes itself a little more physically, it is more difficult to move. It goes very, very well with the English style. »

Mauro Biello speaks of his “vision”, of his “work without a ball”.

The new Canada coach is very satisfied with the two performances of his young midfielder, but he has nuances.

“His fitness level, his tactical focus and his ability to sprint again and again can all be improved,” he believes. If they are, then its potential is gigantic. But there is still a lot of work to do to enable it to be exploited. »

For those wondering: no, Ismaël Koné has “never heard of” the internet rumor sending him to AS Roma in Italy this summer. But we would be surprised if his club did not receive an interesting offer for him in the off-season.

Because it’s not just any player who can come onto a French pitch in front of the Blues and come out as the best of the evening.