LONDON. — Adama Traore is blazing a trail in the English Premiership and has quickly become one of Europe’s most exciting and sought-after players.
The 24-year-old’s performances for Wolves have already seen him estimated to be valued in excess of £100m.
He is eligible to play for both Mali, where his parents hail from, and Spain, where he was born.
The shy boy, who was let go by Barcelona, has been transformed into a near-unstoppable attacker in Wolverhampton and those who know him best believe he is only going to get better.
La Masia, MSN, Barca’s regret and jealousy
Traore grew up in the shadow of Barcelona’s famed La Masia academy and worked his way through their doors and into the first team, aged 17, in 2013.
Diminutive, compared to his current frame, Traore’s unpredictability and athleticism created a buzz around the club, enough for the teenager to find precious first-team minutes alongside Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar.
Seven minutes in La Liga
Traore played seven minutes for Barcelona in La Liga, during which he attempted just four dribbles.
Spanish football expert, Graham Hunter, explains how Barcelona, regretfully, ended up letting Traore slip through their fingers.
“Take into account that he burst into Barca’s first team in 2013, when he was 17, just two years before what would be a historic treble, yes, that was massive expectation,’’ said Hunter.
“He’d set an expectation with terrific performances in the youth teams and NextGen series. At that stage he was not only small, he was a diminutive figure and what he brought to the football pitch was a joyous kind of anarchy.
“Defenders didn’t know where he was going to go and there was a suspicion Adama didn’t either but, boy, there was an excited chitter-chatter everywhere about this kid coming through.
“One of the things you have to feel sorry for is that he made his debut under Gerardo Martino who lasted one season at Barca and wasn’t popular with the players. The next time he plays it’s Luis Enrique.
“It’s really important to understand he left Camp Nou, not because Barca decided to sell him, but because there was a complete breakdown in communication between the agent, the club and the kid.
“Now, as his potential is being harnessed by (Nuno Espirito Santo), he’s looking like he could take on the world, eat the world as they say here in Catalonia. Barcelona are deeply jealous.” By August 2015, with only four first-team appearances to his name, Traore swapped Barcelona for Birmingham, but Aston Villa burned through four managers on their way to relegation.
He only played in 10 Premier League matches that season.
Meeting Pulis and how everything changed
His subsequent move to Middlesbrough also ended in relegation — but a drop down to the Championship, and an invaluable working relationship with Tony Pulis, was his kick-start to superstardom.
“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 revealed.
“The lads knew he would get special treatment.
“A few people were frustrated there with him. People could see there was 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.
“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.
“I used to say to Adama, just take them on. You either get to the by-line and get crosses in, or if you are cut off, come inside and get a shot away. He’s got a good left foot — he’s not as confident as he should be with it, he could come in side and score goals.
“It was lovely to see him grow as a person and an individual. He’s a fantastic lad, he used to make me a nice cup of tea.’’
Middlesbrough even employed former Olympic gold medallist Darren Campbell to refine Traore’s sprinting technique and unlock the even greater untapped potential the Spaniard had.
“I went into the canteen, saw Adama Traore and went up to him and said “you don’t realise how good you can be, and I’m here to fix you,” Campbell recalls.
“He already had the condition. It was about teaching him to control his speed. In your car, you have six gears — Adama always used sixth gear. So for me, the key straight away was slowing him down.
“So instead of 100 percent, the key was to get him to 80 percent. His 80 percent was still faster than everyone else in the league.’’
Last season he clocked the fastest run at 37.78 km/hr against Wolves.
Traore’s improvements at the Riverside caught the attention of Wolves, who parted with a then club-record £18m for his services. It would have been seen as a gamble at the time, but looking back, Wolves’ former sporting director Kevin Thelwell knew that if the move did pay off, it would pay off in a huge way.
“We were looking at two or three players, of which Adama was one. But Nuno was very insistent he wanted the player and he could make him better.
“That fee now looks very, very small.
“The team now understands Adama, and Adama understands them. Our recruitment department had conversations with his previous employers — clearly he has no ego, is a great lad, with great ability, but maybe he’s not always perfect decision making with final pass.
“The sky’s the limit for him, if he doesn’t get too big for his boots.” — Sky Sports.