Barcelona forward Ballou Tabla commits to Canada over Ivory Coast
Barcelona forward Ballou Tabla has committed to represent Canada after months of deliberating over his international allegiance.
Ballou, 19, was born in the Ivory Coast but moved to Montreal when he was eight years old and has represented Canada up to U20 level.
However, close links to the country of his birth, as well as his friendship with Ivory Coast legend Didier Drogba, who he met at the Montreal Impact, meant Canada Soccer had to work hard to get him to commit.
Speaking to ESPN FC in March, Ballou said he was in no rush to make a decision and that Drogba had told him not to stress about picking a side.
After talks with coach John Herdman, though, the teenager has officially made himself available for Canada and is set to make his debut in a CONCACAF Nations League match against Dominica on Oct. 16 in Toronto.
"He's such a talented player, playing in an environment where he's developing every day and developing at the level that is going to help this country step up to the next level," Herdman told TSN.
"And he's improving. I think that's the exciting thing. He's getting more powerful. He has genuine dribbling ability, that technical ability and a mindset to want to beat players one-on-one. There aren't many players with his ability in tight spaces.
"I think he's going to bring something new to the country, very different as well to what we've got. That's what's exciting about Ballou. He'll be one of those players that will be very hard to pinpoint for opposition teams."
Ballou made his debut in Major League Soccer at 17 years, 338 days before moving to Barcelona earlier this year, where he currently plays for the La Liga club's B team.
He was one of several youngsters called up by first-team coach Ernesto Valverde for the summer tour of the United States, where he featured in International Champions Cup games against Tottenham and Roma, setting up a goal against the Italians.
This season he has made five appearances for Barca B in the third tier of Spanish football, scoring one goal and creating another.
Canada, currently ranked 79th in the world, will hope he can help form a new generation of players with the goal of reaching a World Cup in the future.
Youngster Alphonso Davies is set to leave Vancouver Whitecaps for Bayern Munich, while Jonathan David and Liam Miller, like Ballou, are already playing in Europe, for KAA Gent and Liverpool, respectively.