MONTREAL — Top prospect Ballou Tabla has been transferred to FC Barcelona in what the Montreal Impact called a proud moment for its organization.
Spanish giant Barcelona, one of the top teams in world soccer, said on its website that 18-year-old Tabla passed his medical exam and signed a contract for three years plus two option years.
While the transfer fee was not disclosed, the contract has a buyout clause of 25 million euros (C$38.2 million) for the first three years and 75 million euros ($115.2 million) if the deal is extended.
The website’s description of the player said: “Generally known as Ballou, he is one of the hottest prospects in Canadian football and he has played for the national team at various levels.”
Impact president Joey Saputo sees the transfer as a feather in the cap for his team.
“This first transfer is an important moment in the history and evolution of our club,” Saputo said in a statement. “We take a lot of pride in seeing a young player, developed in our 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.”
The attacking midfielder is to start with Barcelona B in Spain’s second division, with a chance to move up to the top level in the future and perhaps a chance to play with stars like Lionel Messi, Gerard Pique, Andres Iniesta and Luis Suarez.
Retired Impact captain Patrice Bernier was quick to salute his former teammate.
“Congratulations Ballou,” he tweeted in French. “Soak in the day. A logical continuation of your development and career. Remember when you watched Neymar before a game, and then there you are. I’m looking forward to following you. Proud of my little brother. Big moment.”
“I am very happy to be in the best club in the world, I expect to learn a lot,” Tabla said in a tweet from FC Barcelona.
Tabla played in 21 games (11 starts) for the Impact last season, mostly on the right side, picking up two goals and two assists with 1,146 minutes played.
At 17 years 338 days, he became the youngest Impact player to take part in an MLS game when he took the field in San Jose on March 4.
Tabla joined the Montreal Impact academy in August 2012, before leaving in December 2013. He then rejoined the Impact under-18 squad in April 2015, and played with FC Montreal (USL) in 2016.
Tabla, who was born in Ivory Coast but raised in Montreal, joined the first team on Oct. 20, 2016.
He has played for Canada at age group levels and was named Canada’s under-20 player of the year in 2016, but has yet to decide if he will play senior international soccer for Canada or Ivory Coast.
Tabla made no secret of wanting to play in Europe.
In August, he left the team briefly hoping to force a deal to a French second division club. However, the Impact found the offer unsatisfactory.
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