By Patrick Gibson
Notre étoile filante est de retour.
On Monday, Atlético Ottawa announced that they signed Ballou Tabla to a contract for the 2024 season and beyond. The 24-year-old attacker from Montréal makes his return to the nation’s capital nearly a year to the day from when he was sold for a reported Canadian Premier League record fee to Turkish club Manisa FK.
Tabla was candid in his pleasure to return to Ottawa for his second stint with the club: “I’m very excited because I’m coming back home and there’s no better place than home. I’m very happy to be here.” Tabla also made it clear that despite there being other offers on the table following his departure from Manisa, the decision to return to Atlético was “the only choice”, citing “great memories with the staff, the people, and the fans” from his time in 2022.
In that first season with Atletico Ottawa, Ballou recorded 7 goals and 4 assists in his 28 appearances, en route to a Canadian Premier League regular season championship and a CPL finals appearance. This statistical output was facilitated by an incredibly versatile and exciting style of play that saw Ballou play many different roles in attack, something that could be argued was lacking for Atlético Ottawa in 2023.
From an individual standpoint, Ballou finished second in both the Player of the Year and Player’s Player of the Year voting in 2022 to teammate Ollie Bassett, and was also awarded the CPL Goal of the Season for his magnificent bicycle kick from outside the box against Cavalry on September 24th.
Tabla returns to a team that has undergone many changes since his departure; only three other players are presently under contract from the 2022 roster all of whom Ballou is looking forward to rejoining for the 2024 season: “I stayed in touch with them, Ollie Bassett, Nathan [Ingham], so I’m very excited to play with them again, and Max Tissot also…I’m very happy to be back here and see their faces again.”
That bond was something Tabla touched on as well when asked about the success of the 2022 season and if it could be replicated further in 2024. Specifically, he mentioned that the group was a “brotherhood”, where any little situation could be diffused simply behind closed doors between teammates, and this helped contribute to the overall mood that buoyed the team through the final few games of the season. Tabla was optimistic that this feeling could be replicated with the team in 2024, saying: “...it’s a question of looking at the mistakes of last season, and how we can improve” and “thinking positive” about the team’s chances throughout the campaign.
Tabla also offered his thoughts on his relationship with Atlético Ottawa manager Carlos González and what role he expects to play for the new look Atlético Ottawa roster in 2024: “Not yet, we didn’t have time to speak about [the plan for Ballou’s role for the upcoming season] ... I think we know each other very well. I think we’re going to have the time to speak…we have this language of football, this communication between us … we’ll have plenty of time to speak about it.”
As for the possibility of climbing that little bit higher this season, to reach the title that eluded Atlético Ottawa in 2022, Ballou’s answer gave me confidence that this team was going to flip a switch from 2023. “Why not? … If we want, we can do it.”
The expectation from Ballou is that he wishes to wear the number 13 shirt for the upcoming season, as he did in 2022, something that while to most would evoke misfortune, he sees the opposite, a number which in his words “brought luck and joy” on the football pitch even prior to his time with Atlético Ottawa.
The announcement of Ballou’s return marks the second new player signed this off-season for Atlético Ottawa who had previously been with the team. Ballou’s return follows the previously announced acquisition of Barrhaven-born Matteo de Brienne, a member of Atletico Ottawa’s inaugural team in 2020, who is returning to the club after having spent the last two seasons with Valour FC. At present, the club does not have a “natural” right winger on the roster, and Ballou could slot in there to provide a more dynamic presence in that position than in 2023.
The announced roster now consists of 12 players, and more announcements are sure to follow in the coming weeks as pre-season draws near.
Having joined CCSG in 2022, Patrick started his footie career playing at the age of 4 and began watching the pros around the same time. While the first pro team he supported was Manchester United, as soon as Atlético Ottawa came to town, he was immediately on board. His wealth of footie knowledge has been a constant asset, along with his role as caretaker for Atléti Wikipedia pages.