The last time a player moved permanently between Watford and MLS, it was Colombian striker Cucho Hernandez leaving behind England for a new opportunity at the Columbus Crew.
This time, it’s Canadian midfielder Ismaël Koné jettisoning across the pond in the opposite direction – from CF Montréal to the Hornets.
That background isn’t front of mind for the 20-year-old, though. He’s just eager to test himself in Europe after turning pro a short 16 months ago.
“I had come to Europe, I trialed in Belgium and it didn't work out for me,” Koné said in an official Watford FC interview after his transfer from Montréal was announced Monday.
“There was some stuff I needed to learn, a couple of things I needed to realize and improve in my game for me to finally make the step. Luckily Montréal gave me the platform to do so. Now I'm here to grow, even more, to learn even more. I can't wait. Europe is big.”
Few players have enjoyed a more rapid rise in recent MLS history. Koné has gone from near obscurity to playing for Canada at the 2022 FIFA World Cup and commanding a reported $8-10 million transfer fee to a team chasing promotion back into English Premier League.
Koné appeared in 32 all-competition matches this past calendar year for Montréal, a huge part of the club’s best-ever MLS campaign as they finished second in the Eastern Conference table. That generated ample transfer interest from abroad, with fellow Championship sides Norwich City and Sheffield United reportedly having offers rebuffed during the summer.
It always seemed inevitable that Koné would move overseas sooner rather than later, and he said Watford’s interest has been on the radar since September.
“It was a bit busy with my career, had some games going on,” Koné said. “But I always knew it could be a good step for me, a good step in my career. This is why I'm here now.”
Now, the Canada international is the latest talent to turn the MLS proving ground into a move abroad. Bayern Munich star Alphonso Davies (ex-Vancouver Whitecaps FC), Club Brugge winger Tajon Buchanan (ex-New England Revolution) and Celtic defender Alistair Johnston (ex-CF Montréal) are all shining examples in that regard.
Koné knows the scale of opportunity that awaits him, already carrying eight caps for Canada.
“The project was good, the idea was good, the football was good,” Koné said. “Luckily it was a match."