BARCELONA — Barcelona new boy Ballou Jean-Yves Tabla says he is receiving guidance from former Chelsea star Didier Drogba as he looks to make it at Camp Nou.
Ballou, 18, joined Barca’s B team in January for an undisclosed fee from MLS side Montreal Impact.
The Canada youth international, who was born in Ivory Coast, made his debut in Saturday’s 1-0 loss to Alcorcon as a second-half substitute at the Mini Estadi. But despite being unable to help turn things around against Alcorcon, Ballou impressed playing on the right of a front three and trained alongside Lionel Messi and the rest of the first team for the first time on Monday.
Ballou only learned of Barca’s interest in January, but he’s had the advice of Drogba to listen to. The two met at the Impact — Drobga is now at Phoenix Rising — and being from the same city in Ivory Coast, Abidjan, they instantly hit it off.
“Didier Drogba is very happy [with me coming to Barcelona],” Ballou told reporters after his debut on Saturday, including ESPN FC. “I spoke to him [on Friday], he’s very proud. He tells me to work harder, that it’s just the beginning and to work harder and harder every day to express myself.”
Ballou says the move to Catalonia came out of the blue but that once it became an option he did everything he could to make sure it went through.
“I was surprised to get the call from Barcelona because it’s a big club,” he added. “When you play in MLS for only six months and you’re younger, to take off from there to the [Spanish] second division at Barcelona is a great thing.
“I first talked with my agent in January, he called me and he said maybe we’re going to have a deal with Barcelona so I was so happy.
“I was having some time off from [Montreal] so I was in Ivory Coast at the time but I went back to Montreal to prepare myself and to make sure I was ready to play here.”
As well as learning a new language — he won’t start lessons until next week — and adapting to a new team in a new city, Ballou is also experiencing a new league and he’s already noticed differences with MLS. “I think the second division here is very different [to MLS],” he said. “The level is very fast, it’s very intelligent, it’s a very high level.
“Luckily it’s easy to play with good players. All around me I have really good players at a high level. So that makes it easy for me to get the ball, to dribble and to try to link up with my teammates.
“I am very happy. I was happy to get my first minutes with the team and I hope I can now get more minutes in the games coming up in the future.”
Ballou’s ability to run at defenders has helped him make an impression at the club already, with B team coach Gerard Lopez hopeful he will add something different in the side’s battle against relegation from the second tier of Spanish football.
“Ballou’s a player that has that special spark out wide,” Gerard told a news conference. “We were struggling to break [Alcorcon] down and he had two or three good moments where he beat a man.
“But he’s not just good in one-on-one situations, he’s also good at linking up with his teammates. His adaption is a work in progress still, due to the language and everything that comes with the move, but he’s an 18-year-old kid with a lot of potential and he could be important for us.”
Samuel Marsden covers Barcelona for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @SamuelMarsden.