ADAMA TRAORE: BETRAYING THE NORM
Before I begin this article, I want you to spare a mere few seconds to your thoughts.
In those few seconds, what visions dawn upon you when you hear the fabled words ‘La Masia academy graduate’?
For the collective majority of us, the answers will bear little contrast. To our minds, almost instinctively and certainly without a second thought, we immediately retract to nimble, dimunivite, aesthetically pleasing midfielders with that unique Barcelona way seemingly engrained in their veins.
And then, you have Adama Traore, who it must be said, could not possibly differ more astoundingly from the typical profile of a budding young footballer emerging from the utopia-esque Blaugrana setup.
Instead, Traore typifies what you would scour for within a seasoned NFL player: dynamic, explosive and sculpted in the very mould of Hercules.
As a matter of fact, Traore was once actually presented with an opportunity to voyage across the depths of the Atlantic and try his hand in America’s most popular sport, such is the sheer phenomenon of his physique.
“I see him everyday in training, because we are in the gym together, before or after training,” Wolves teammate Romain Saiss told RMC Sport.
“Maybe he has a hidden gym room, but at training, in any case, he never pumps iron, whether it is bench press or otherwise. He is huge and very quick.
“I remember saying to him: ‘You run like an American footballer’. He responded to me that at the time that he played in Barcelona, NFL teams tried to get him playing American football instead, that’s how explosive he was,” Saiss recalls.
“There are people who say it is not possible, that he can’t be playing football.”
To audiences all over the planet, Traore is intuited as a physical nonpareil- with his bulking fame resembling every bit the glossy heavyweight boxing star.
But, as former Barcelona academy coach Andres Carrasco recollects, the Wolves’ man has endured quite the transformation over time.
“There were a lot of 11-year-old boys at Barcelona who gave the impression they were three or four years older. Adama wasn’t like that. He was very small- one of the smallest in the team- but he really caught our attention,” explains Carrasco, who currently manages the Kuwait national team.
“When we defended a corner, we’d put him on the edge of the box to take advantage of rebounds. With his speed, we’d score a lot like that.
“When Adama had the ball in a one against one, the defenders didn’t even panic. He created total panic amongst them.”
However, due to what was described as a “complete breakdown in communication between the agent, the club and the kid (Traore)”, his future fluttered elsewhere.
After playing once for the first team- which was littered with global superstars at the time- Traore jetted off to British shores back in 2015 to seal an unorthodox move to Aston Villa.
And, by all accounts, his inauguration to regular football was an abject failure. Traore initially failed to adapt to the rigorous rhythm of the English game and cut a frustrating, yet fairly peripheral figure as the Villians succumbed to relegation.
Though to Traore’s defence, it was hardly what one would cite as a facilitative environment for a prospect just beginning to tread water in senior football.
Barcelona is a universally-desired footbaling sanctum, but even for the most modest of clubs, Aston Villa was a complete and utter far cry.
Achingly absent was a sense of stability, or a genuine philosophy- instead, an ambience of affliction rained down on Villa Park, which saw the Midlands-based side strip through four managers on their descent to the foot of the Premier League.
So, little surprise emanated when after a single year in Birmingham, Traore was left seeking pastures new.
The next destination on Traore’s rigid journey came in the form of Middlesbrough, who duly ensured that the speedster would be honing his talents at the highest level for another season.
In fairness, he would fare much better than he did in the casserole of mess that was Aston Villa- although he was still fastening his seatbelt for a second successive relegation.
Traore enjoyed a lot more action on Teesside as he made 27 appearances in his debut campaign and it was here- in an otherwise bleak season for the Boro, that he would begin to showcase glimmers of the captivating talent that once aroused whispers all over Spain.
His underlying numbers that term, if you delve closely, were genuinely spectacular in some cases. Despite failing to open his Premier League account and only providing a solitary assist, Traore managed to maintain an average rating of 7.23, all the while racking up extraordinary dribbling statistics.
The Middlesbrough marvel would succeed in 76% of his 133 attempted dribbles, bookmarking himself as a relentless threat for opposition defences. And in tandem, he completed five dribbles per game. For context, Eden Hazard only completed four each match that season and Traore’s numbers would only be eclipsed by former teammate Neymar.
Reversing to the Premier League’s underbelly- the Championship- is so often perceived to be a backwards step in a footballer’s career; the fortune, the fame and the global fanfare that is alluringly encompassed with the top flight simply does not go hand in hand with England’s second tier and ultimately, that is why so many players are desperately fleeting towards the exit door the second that relegation occurs.
But, for Traore, venturing into the Championship and embracing a fruitful relationship with Boro boss Tony Pulis would prove to be his springboard to stardom.
“Picking him up from the start, he lacked a lot of confidence, and a bit of self esteem. I just made him my best friend, as I have done with other people in the past, who I think have talent that they haven’t really produced,” Pulis explained.
“The lads knew he would get special treatment. A few people were frustrated there with him. People could see there were enormous amounts of untapped talent there. It was just getting it out of him, turning that tap on, so that talent wouldn’t be wasted. I spent a bit of time with him, we gave him quite a bit of leeway.”
He added: “The balance of the team was all about getting Adama wide in one-on-one positions as much as possible when we had the ball- training sessions were all about getting the ball to Adama as quickly as we possibly can.”
That extra emphasis, coupled with an entrusting license, came to full fruition at the Riverside as Traore blossomed into one of the division’s finest performers, having a hand in fifteen league goals to engineer his side’s route to the playoffs.
And although Middlesbrough would miss out on promotion at the first time of asking- coincidentally losing out to Aston Villa in the playoff semi finals- Traore’s Premier League redemption was on the cusp.
A fierce, prolonged bidding war eventually ceased to conclude as newly-promoted Wolves sealed Traore’s signature for a fee in the region of 18M- a club record move at the time.
Still, as Wolves basked in the glory of their return to top level football, Traore struggled for minutes, starting only eight league matches all season and as a result, rumours linking him away from the Molineux began to surface from the shadows. But, unknown to the masses, Nuno Espirito Santo was quietly equipping and nurturing the swashbuckling Spaniard for his true breakthrough.
The following season, both Traore and Wolves reaped the optimised rewards of extensive work on the training pitch, in which a substantial refinement would be performed on his end product, awareness and decision making.
Anyone could see how handsomely it paid off. Six goals, twelve assists and a catalogue of engulfing displays against some of the country’s esteemed powerhouses thrust Traore into the sporting spotlight, with almost all of Europe’s elite scavenging for his services.
It was very anomalous of Traore’s troubled times of the past.
Bayern Munich, Manchester City and Liverpool- the latter two had both been subjected to the epitome of his destruction- all circulated as potential suitors, whereas Barcelona were also reported to be keen on an extraordinary renaissance, though Traore ultimately stayed put in the West Midlands.
And Traore, who had transitioned from a proverbial flop to a 70M star, gave the full scope on how the Portugese coach aided his progression.
“With me, he’s been working on tactics,” said Traore.
“He has been pushing me into different positions, demanding different things,” Traore added after undergoing spells on either flank, wing back and even as a striker.
“He has shown me when to show my quality- when is the moment to show my quality.
“But, you can defend also, like a wing-back, or play inside like a striker, or on the left or the right as a winger.
“This is it. Different positions demand different things. This has made me see things in different ways. It makes me grow as a player.
“I’ve been working so hard on this with Nuno, and also the end (product).
“He’s been doing that with me, so we keep working. Like I’ve said before, I trust his process and I will keep working.”
Emulating last season’s performances was never going to be easy and it has been a tough, turbulent term for all involved at Wolves
Following two successive seventh-place finishes laced with a run to the Europa League Quarter Finals, the Wanderers have struggled to clamber back to such levels as they sit in the crevasse of mid table mediocrity
In particular, it has been paradoxical for Traore. The speed king is yet to break his duck, having failed to score or assist in nearly 30 games and appears- just as the rest of his teammates do- severely harmed by the injury of Raul Jimenez.
Across the 19/20 campaign, the duo struck a harmonious partnership as they directly combined for ten Premier League goals; so often, Traore would prove to be the creator, crafting appetising deliveries for the Mexican to pounce onto in emphatic style, so it is no surprise how he has failed to root out his best form without the 29-year old.
Nuno, however, remains broadly confident in Traore’s quality, describing the Spanish International as “special and unique”.
In his own words, “there is no one in the world of football like Adama Traore.”
It is surely impossible to possess an air of disagreement towards that sentiment, and although Traore is capable of conjuring a much higher magnitude of performance, we have all learned by now to never bet against the 25-year old.
From betraying the norm at Barcelona, to being written off by audiences all over, to then transpiring as one of the planet’s most coveted stars- it has indeed been a rapturing rollercoaster ride so far, and one with plenty of track still to cover, too.