Club Record Signings. In many ways the poisoned chalice of sport. Do poorly, you’re the expensive flop. Do well, of course you’re doing well, you cost a gazillion pounds. The pressure of the price tag hangs heavy. But does it really mean anything?
Adama Traore joined Wolves this summer for a fee of £18m. I still remember Ade Akinbiyi joining for £3.5m and the shock and awe that greeted us spending such a fee. This time? A shrug of the shoulders. Football is in it’s own financial world, more specifically so is the Premier League and England. When a player of Adama Traore’s ilk, a man who has had one successful 6-month period in the second tier since arriving on these shores, costs £18m, you begin to take these things with a pinch of salt.
But the price tag does impact some thoughts. I mean, this man must walk into the team, no? Who purchases a player for such a grand sum and decides not to give them significant game time? Yet this is the scenario Adama has been faced with. I imagine it’s frustrating him, having had a stellar end to the season with Middlesbrough and the fanfare with which he was brought in. He was seemingly a man in demand over the summer and he may even be wondering if he’s made the right decision. The club is on an upward trajectory, but we’ve seen some collateral damage of our success already with the likes of Connor Ronan and Bright Enobakhare, promising talents who we have clearly outgrown.
The boy clearly has talent. His shock of blonde hair means attention is drawn to him anyway, but it’s difficult to think of any player as uniquely gifted as him. You simply cannot take your eyes off him when he’s playing, as he seems constantly on the verge of the outrageous. And he regularly produces the outrageous. His runaway train runs dig turrets through defences, wreaking havoc and leaving a trail of destruction, except he often falls off a cliff at the end, rather than reaching something like the destination he’s looking for. Traore has a legitimate case for being called the best dribbler on the planet.
There’s an interesting story about his time at Middlesbrough, where Darren Campbell, the former 100m sprinter, was brought in to work with the players for some marginal gains. He spoke of how – amongst the constant calls for him to race Traore – he would actually coach Traore to slow down, such was his enthusiasm to display his freakish speed. That’s the thing about speed – if you have it at your disposal, all you ever want to do is use it. It’s arguably the greatest commodity in team sport, a valuable asset that you cannot simply develop. Traore in his youth was guilty of constantly trying to bullet his way through defences, except he ran into things like packed defences, touchlines, bylines and perhaps even the ball – anyone recall him doing this during the Brighton game?
He seems to have nurtured his talent a little more and his interjections off the bench have been largely positive, although he did seem to blow his big chance from the start. But how best to harness this once in a lifetime talent? What best o do with a player who can run past, around, through, over and under defenders? Nuno’s coaching and man management skills may be put to their greatest individual test in trying to eke out the talent, to solve the Krypton Factor that is Traore.
For now, it seems best to leave his appearances to the cameo variety. A man as meticulous as Nuno simply cannot afford a chink in his armour and for now Adama is potentially that chink. He is a double-edged sword of a player, as likely to win you a game as he is to lose you one. His upturn in form at Middlesbrough coincided with him playing at a level well within his grasp in a team in service to him. This will never be the way at Wolves. He will need to understand the responsibilities of his role and work out the best way to produce his talent within those ‘constraints’.
But are we doing more harm than good? Are we trying to de-Adama him? Will Traore ever be himself at Wolves or will we be another club tangling themselves in to a knot trying to work out what to do with a player honestly capable of being one of the most dangerous on the planet? For now, he will have to settle for a place as a supersub, a caged tiger unleashed on opposition in favourable situations. It’s an enjoyable sight as we all saw at the Emirates Stadium on Sunday, but how much longer till we finally unearth what clearly lies beneath? For what it’s worth I see no real harm in keeping him for those occasions where he can simply run riot. For all of his running down blind alleys, he is also capable of taking 2, 3, 4 defenders out of a game in the same way an incisive through ball would. Find me another player with those gifts. Go on, I dare you…