He’s been the topic of conversation for over a week now, commanding more column inches than he could have ever had in his career so far – for the right reasons anyway. He’s a player who demands attention, whether it be from spectators or opposition defenders, whenever he enters the fray. Finally, it seems Adama Traore has come of age.
As one of the most captivating footballers, arguably on the planet, you’d think Traore would have achieved more by now. Schooled at La Masia, his lack of pretty much any success at senior level is as striking as his ability to beat three players in the blink of an eye.
The statistics spoke for themselves: one goal in 72 Premier League appearances until this point. Playing against Traore was akin to having a small child buzzing around for 90 minutes, all the while knowing that they’re essentially harmless at the end of the day. Defenders would essentially allow him to make his own mistakes, confident that he’d run himself into a dead end or isolate himself from his teammates with a speedy burst that no one else could actually keep up with. But his game has visibly come on leaps and bounds, even from the start of pre-season. Witness, with Adama now well set in his development as a wing-back, how Leroy Sane skated away from him during the PL Asia Trophy final and in his desperation Traore fouled him to give away a penalty.
It wasn’t a catastrophic error, nor was it the mistake of an absolute novice – far more experienced players in that position will fall foul of such play from the likes of Sane – but it was a lesson in the fine margins at this level. The slightest lapse in concentration, something Adama clearly is prone to, can be punished. That said, up until this point you don’t recall any such lapses, despite Traore’s withdrawn position. It’s credit to Adama that he has come on in such leaps and bounds defensively, culminating in his excellent performance last Sunday. While he may not have been up against Sane, he was still facing up to one of the most dangerous operators in the division in Raheem Sterling. A feather in the right-wing-back cap.
He’s revolutionised his game going forward too. Less and less we’re seeing the zig-zagging, mazy runs to nowhere, thrilling as they are. There’s a refinement to the way Traore plays in the final third, obviously not to the levels of a Joao Moutinho, but there’s a pause for thought when he receives the ball. While he may be capable of skipping by the three men marking him, he’s not taking that option immediately. This extends back beyond the City game as well – the assists in Europe, the cross for Jota’s late equaliser versus Crystal Palace and again, a culmination at the Etihad.
What struck me most though was the completeness of his performance at City. He looked utterly comfortable, almost natural in both of the positions he took up, positions that 12 months ago would have been described as entirely unnatural to him. There was nothing complicated or flashy about it either, again despite his ability to come up with the spectacular. His goals epitomised this – just simple, calm, efficient finishes.
Here we are seeing the virtues of a player-coach relationship that works. It is a significant quirk in football that dictates that not all flowers can bloom in all gardens. Traore has perhaps been a victim of being planted in the wrong soil, sprinkled with the wrong feed and maybe even succumbed to the wrong weather. His toll call of managers in English football reads as follows: Tim Sherwood, Kevin MacDonald, Remi Garde, Eric Black (all in one season), Aitor Karanka, Steve Agnew, Garry Monk, Tony Pulis and finally Nuno Espirito Santo. The first thing that hits you about that list, is that for a guy who arrived on these shores in 2015, that is far too many different voices to listen to in such a short space of time. Yes, some were caretakers, but the wide spectrum of coaches doesn’t give Adama much chance when you think about it.
From ‘Tactics Tim’, a man who essentially started the ball rolling on Aston Villa’s first relegation from the Premier League and whose last significant contribution in a senior footballing position was to drag Swindon Town down to League Two, to Aitor Karanka, a miserly coach who celebrated clean sheets as if he was the Virgin Mary herself. It could be argued that Tony Pulis began to get the best from Adama, but he is the demanding, bitter step-father who accepts nothing less than his word being carried out. You could almost witness him dragging Adama around the pitch at the Riverside, ensuring he was as close to him as possible by switching wings for each half.
At which point we arrive at Nuno, who it has to be said has taken his time in getting the most from Traore. But perhaps this is the greatest gift Nuno has been able to afford him – time. It’s really starting to pay dividends.