Canadians Abroad: What do new coaches mean for Tajon Buchanan, Ismaël Koné?
With the next Canadian Men’s National Team camp right around the corner, it’s been a key week of off-the-field developments for a trio of key Canadian players.
From a pair of new coaches, to the restart button being potentially hit on a complicated transfer saga, many are going to be keeping a close eye on Tajon Buchanan, Ismaël Koné and Iké Ugbo over the next little while, as they navigate various challenges at their clubs.
A sharp contrast to some of their teammates who are in top form, such as Alphonso Davies, Jonathan David and Stephen Eustáquio, for example, it’s not ideal, but also a reality of the European game, one that the trio is certainly getting a good taste of.
Therefore, while one would hope for all Canadians to be in form all at once, that’s never going to happen, so it’ll be interesting to see how this group reacts to adversity as they look to finish 22/23 on a high note, both for club and country.
Here’s the latest on what’s going down for them right now.
Tajon Buchanan getting set for life under yet another Club Brugge manager:
In the least surprising development in European soccer, Club Brugge parted ways with English manager Scott Parker on Wednesday, just 67 days after the former Fulham and AFC Bournemouth manager was hired by the Belgian club.
Less than 24 hours following the team’s shock 5-1 defeat away to Benfica in the UEFA Champions League, which saw them crash out of the Round of 16 on an aggregate score of 7-1, it was largely expected that Parker, who had a record of just 2W-4L-6D in his 12 games in charge of the club, would quickly see the door.
Tajon Buchanan gets a CL assist which is always a great confidence booster however, this match is already over. Benfica are cruising to the quarters. #CanMNT— JJD TV (@tv_jjd) March 7, 2023
Having fallen 19 points off of first-place Genk in the Belgian title race, very much in danger of missing a top-four spot (and a Championship Round spot) with six games to go in the regular season, Brugge needed a turnaround, and quick, having now crashed out of Europe, and very much in danger of being unable to defend their league title from 21-22.
Of course, this is big news for Canadian international Tajon Buchanan, who is a prominent figure at Brugge, where he sits ninth on the team in minutes this season, despite missing the first few months of the season with an injury.
One of the team’s leaders offensively, sitting with one goal and six assists, as well as an important piece defensively given the time he’s spent at both full back and wing back, he’ll likely be leaned upon by whoever the new manager ends up being.
Especially given that he managed to nab three of his six assists under Parker’s charge, an impressive feat seeing that Brugge scored just 11 goals during his tenure, Buchanan could be tapped to play a bigger role offensively under a new coach, in particular.
Since his arrival at the club just over 14 months ago, he’s had a lot of defensive responsibilities, spending most of his time at full back or wing back, but has seen more time on the wing since the World Cup, where he was one of Canada’s standouts despite their quick elimination.
So as Brugge looks to fix their offence, Buchanan could be one of those who would help them with that quest. Of course, he’ll have a lot to do defensively, too, as Brugge also conceded 21 goals over Parker’s span, but given how Buchanan’s game has matured defensively over the last year, that’s a given.
Therefore, it should be very interesting to see how Buchanan reacts to this move. This isn’t the first coaching change he’s seen at Brugge, as whoever comes after Parker will actually be the fourth manager Buchanan has had since his arrival at the beginning of 2022, but it’s important that he has a good reaction to this move, much as he did in the past instances he dealt with a situation like this.
Especially given that he’s continued to deal with strong transfer links to clubs in Italy and the Premier League, with Inter Milan, in particular, seeming quite interested in the Canadian as a Denzel Dumfries replacement, these next few months will be crucial for Buchanan.
Tajon Buchanan is #Inter's primary target to replace Denzel Dumfries- who has suitors in England. #Inter want to sell Dumfries for ~€50M, and could sign Buchanan for around €15-20M due to a contract expiring in 2024. 🇨🇦— Inter Xtra (@Inter_Xtra) March 8, 2023
[via @Gazzetta_it 🌗]
Given that one of the reasons he didn’t make a move in January was because he was supposed to finish the year strong with Brugge in both the league and the Champions League, he’ll need to prove that staying wasn’t a mistake, and that he could be a good fit at one of the clubs that were interested in his services, which also include AC Milan, Juventus, Napoli and Leeds United.
There’s no doubt that Buchanan could potentially do well with a step up, but he’ll need to finish this season strong, getting back to the progression that he showed in 2022, allowing him to become the next Canadian to play in a top-five European league.
Iké Ugbo sends message to Troyes with big goal:
Speaking of Canadians in a top-five league, that leads well to Iké Ugbo, whose time at Troyes has remained complicated, for a lack of another way to put it.
Following a failed transfer in the January window to the English Championship, as he looked for a new opportunity after playing just under 500 minutes in the first half of the season, those minutes went from a trickle to bone-dry after that didn’t work out.
Given that his coach had implied that he wasn’t "fully invested" in Troyes, it was a big worry for Ugbo, with some wondering if his time might be over at the club.
But sometimes, things change quickly in soccer. Since then, Ugbo had remained with the team, continuing to train, and he eventually won back some minutes, playing eight minutes against AC Ajaccio on February 26th, before getting a chance to play 12 minutes this past weekend against Monaco.
And against Monaco, he made the most of his opportunity, scoring a late goal to rescue a point for Troyes in a 2-2 draw, one that they were probably pretty happy to get given that they’d just blown a 1-0 lead minutes earlier.
Because it hasn't been shared on here... ICYMI, here's Iké Ugbo's equalizer from yesterday— Alexandre Gangué-Ruzic (@AlexGangueRuzic) March 6, 2023
Good to see him back among the goals after the last few months. Great run and header
Given their form... surely Troyes give him a run the next few weeks#CanMNThttps://t.co/bsE5vpm21E
Especially given that it was just their second point in their last nine Ligue 1 games, as they’d lost seven of their eight previous matches, it was a decent boost to their relegation hopes, keeping them two points within their survival.
Because of that, it could revitalize Ugbo’s 22/23 with Troyes, who after being a good offensive team in the first half of the year, had only scored five goals in their last eight games before the Monaco match.
There are still tensions between Ugbo and Troyes, as Ugbo did celebrate the goal by covering the Troyes badge and making a “shushing” gesture, seemingly a shot at the club, but there is no doubt that the goal could be the sort of tonic needed to refresh this situation.
Given that Ugbo still has a decent rate of two goals and one assist in 500 minutes of play this season, putting him up to seven goals and one assists in the 1200 minutes he’s played since he joined Troyes at the beginning of 2022, there’s no doubting his production, which could stand to improve with more minutes.
Therefore, it would make a lot of sense for Ugbo to start seeing more minutes with Troyes. Even if they might not see him as a long-term piece (despite investing over $4 million in him last summer), he could serve as a huge boost in their relegation fight, much as he did last year.
At the very least, if they’re set on selling him no matter what, playing him could raise his value, which wouldn’t hurt them.
And hey, given the nature of this sport, for all one knows, maybe both parties end up mending fences and finding common ground in their partnership, leaving this all behind them.
No matter what, though, no doubt that Ugbo’s goal was a big milestone, especially given how the last few months have gone for him.
How will Watford coaching carousel affect Ismaël Koné?
Buchanan isn’t the only Canadian Men’s National Team player dealing with a new coach these days, either, as Ismaël Koné will have to adjust to a new voice behind Watford’s bench after Slaven Bilić was sacked in midweek, replaced by former Sheffield United and Middlesbrough manager Chris Wilder.
Given that Koné is yet to hit the three-month mark at his new club, it’s a big development, as Bilić had given a lot of trust to the 20-year-old, having handed him nine appearances, including seven starts, for a total of 568 minutes.
Given how tough it can be to make a move like this to the Championship (just ask Richie Laryea), it had been a huge development to see him get minutes right off the hop, giving him that chance to find his feet at this level.
Yet, after having won just two of their last nine games, Bilić was always going to be in tough to stick around, especially given that Watford has a history of firing coaches, with Wilder being the club’s 11th different manager since the start of 2018.
Therefore now, Koné must find a way to remain in the fight for minutes under Wilder, continuing the development that he’s shown since his Watford debut, where he’s shown improvement on the defensive and passing side of his game, while also showing off some of the skills that made him a hot commodity as a youngster in MLS last year.
The good news? Wilder should have plenty of reasons to want to play Koné, as he typically runs a 3-5-2 with three midfielders, which is a good development for a midfielder like Koné, given that it doesn’t change much from the 4-2-3-1 system Bilić was running with three midfielders before.
So look for Koné to try and carve out a spot in his new managers’ system. With 11 games to go, Watford still remains very much in the hunt for promotion, sitting four points out of a playoff spot, so even if automatic promotion is far out of reach (16 points), that’s not a bad thing, as their season is still very much alive.
Knowing that Koné is expected to play a big role for Canada this year and beyond, this will be a good test for him, further proving why many are expecting him to become a pillar in John Herdman’s midfield for the next half-decade-plus.
Plus, there is a strong chance he could play in a top-five league next year, either through a promotion with Watford or a potential move to Watford’s Serie A partner club, Udinese, so a strong finish to 2022-2023 will only help his cause in facilitating such a future move.
Either way, no doubt the future is bright for Koné, but it’ll be interesting to see how the youngster handles his first big bout of adversity in Europe, which is always an important milestone to overcome in a burgeoning young career such as his.