Adama Traore started his career as a promising winger at FC Barcelona, but he may see a jumpstart to his career with a move to right wing-back.
Wolverhampton Wanderers right wing-back Matt Doherty has had an influential role in leading his side to seventh place in the Premier League while conceding the fifth-fewest goals, but La Masia product Adama Traore might take his spot. Wolves’ record signing has struggled to break into his club’s first XI, but an impressive shift at wing-back could change the dynamo’s fortunes.
Born and raised in Spain, Traore joined FC Barcelona as an eight-year-old, and his blistering pace and hulking physique had him stick out like a sore thumb, even in an academy as talented as Barca’s. He has bombed down the wing all his life, claiming he has never seen a player faster than him, yet his speed has often hurt his technique and end product.
As self-critical as any player, Traore realizes he has to improve when it comes to passing and finishing. While at Middlesborough, Olympic sprinter Darren Campbell visited to help with training, and he advised Adama to slow down so his mind could keep up with his legs.
He completed a stunning 138 take-ons during the 2016/17 season with Middlesborough in the English Championship, translating to 7.1 dribbles per game. The next-best dribbler made 3.4 per game in the same season. He ended the season as the highest-rated Championship player on WhoScored, contributing five goals and 10 assists, his most prolific season in professional football to date.
Teams have already combined to spend over £34 million on the La Masia product. The 23-year-old winger has already swapped clubs three times in his career on permanent transfers, unable to stick a landing in the Premier League or with boyhood club FC Barcelona in La Liga.
Now with Wolverhampton Wanderers, one of the most ambitious newly-promoted clubs in the English top flight, Traore serves primarily to provide athleticism and width off the bench for Nuno Espirito Santo’s side. He has only started seven matches this season while appearing in 16 from the bench, adding a goal and an assist in about 33 minutes per appearance.
The Portuguese manager used the attacker as a wing-back in the club’s 2-0 win over Cardiff, and Traore exceeded expectations. Given the money they invested in him, could he really replace Doherty, one of the most solid players in the team this season?
A Record-Signing’s Renaissance?
Many felt some confusion when first noticing Traore as part of the backline against Cardiff City, yet he excelled in his 75-minute appearance. He completed five dribbles and two tackles, only getting dispossessed once.
Traore has always run down the touchline to beat defenders, so he had to adjust to Santo’s rotating system in attack when he joined Wolves for a club-record £18 million. His lack of playing time did not help his adjustment since the Portuguese manager has used the Spaniard to provide pace from the bench, putting extra pressure on him to make the most of the few minutes he plays.
Yet playing Adama, a player rarely tasked with defensive responsibility, at right wing-back worked in the seventh-placed side’s 2-0 win at home against Cardiff. He made carving runs down the wing and through the center of the pitch, including three impressive moves in the first 20 minutes of the match. The Bluebirds did not do much to test his defensive mettle, though Santo will probably use Doherty against stronger sides as Traore adjusts to this new role.
Wolverhampton Wanderers’ record goalscorer Steve Bull praised the 23-year-old’s performance in defense, mentioning the pressure he put on Cardiff players and the ease with which he dribbled past players. The Spaniard born to Malian parents completed five dribbles and two tackles, only getting dispossessed once.
As the 58 percent pass success rate indicates, Traore is still rough around the edges in terms of his technical ability, but his all-around athleticism exceeds that of any other player in the Premier League.
He has time, a good manager, and lots of young talent on his side, so he will probably learn to thrive consistently in the wider, deeper role than Santo used him in for the majority of this season.
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