Ismaël Koné is a diamond in the making.
The 21-year-old has had a meteoric last 18 months since breaking into the CF Montréal first team during the 2022 season, earning himself a move to English Football League Championship side Watford last winter and cementing himself as a key man in the future of Canada’s midfield.
On Tuesday, Koné underlined his credentials again with a starring Man of the Match performance for his club in a 3-2 come-from-behind win against Norwich.
The Ivorian-born midfielder started for the Hornets after coming off the bench in midweek, and he was his team’s main man. Per Fotmob, Koné, who played the full 90 minutes, ended with a game-best 8.7 rating, 81 touches, 59 passes at an 85 percent accuracy, 12 passes into the final third, three successful dribbles, three accurate long balls, four ball recoveries, five duels won, and one interception. He wasn’t dispossessed all game long, not even once.
And the crowning moment came when his team needed it the most.
At 0-2 down at home to Norwich, Koné brought a ball down out of the sky, dribbled inside to the centre of the pitch, and smashed home a missile into the bottom corner from 25 yards. It was his first goal in English football, and it was an absolute beauty.
That was one of five shots he had in the game, three of which were on target. One of the off-target ones was another spectacular effort that rattled the crossbar early in the second half.
Throw in the fact he scored for CanMNT in the ill-fated game against Jamaica at BMO Field earlier this month, and it’s been quite the couple of weeks for the hugely talented kid.
Related read: Ismaël Koné delighted with first Watford goal, aiming to become goalscoring midfielder
His performance at Vicarage Road on Tuesday reiterated that Koné, while still an unpolished diamond, is a diamond nonetheless who has all the attributes of a player who can hold down a central spot in the CanMNT next decade-plus. His rangy figure glides across the field, and he has the control and composure of a player 10 years his senior. He possesses not only the ability to efficiently recycle the ball but also the incisive vision to create attacks and a ghostly talent to find pockets of space.
In short, he has the kind of all-around two-way ability that managers look to build midfields around.
“He can go wherever he wants to… if he can keep his feet on the ground,” said former CanMNT head coach John Herdman, the man who brought him into the national-team fold, back in March. “The kid is young, but he has an old head on his shoulders.”
Atiba Hutchinson, whose huge shoes Koné is helping to fill in Canada’s midfield, added that “the ceiling is very, very high for him [because] he plays with a lot of maturity. He’s out there playing like he’s playing in his backyard.”
With Tuesday’s win, Koné has now played more games for Watford than he did for Montréal. His first goal in English football is just the latest of many, many career milestones to come.