9. Bertrand Traoré
It’s January 2012. The African Cup Of Nations is taking place in Gabon & Guinea Bissau and Burkina Faso are playing Sudan in a throwaway game after finishing last in the group stages. On comes a young 16 year old, the captain of the U20s – who’s senior brother Alain was already on the pitch. It was almost like a sign from manager Paulo Duarte (who still happens to be head coach of Burkina Faso, 5 years later); a message to reinforce that whilst the present looked bleak – there is some light at the end of the tunnel.
Bertrand Traoré had been on some big clubs’ radar since he was 14. Growing up in a footballing family, with his big brother Alain and his father having represented Burkina Faso, helped paved the way. Having starred in the 2009 U17 World Cup, Bertrand attracted many suitors, including Manchester United, Auxerre, and the club he would end up at – Chelsea. Chelsea unofficially signed Bertrand as a 15 year old but due to work permit issues – Bertrand was not able to play in official competitions until he could officially sign a pro contract in October 2013. He then joined forces with Peter Bosz, who’d become a huge influence in his career, at Vitesse, where he would go on to spend two seasons – becoming a better, more rounded player in the process. In his first season at Vitesse Traoré only managed to appear 15 times, scoring 4 goals. The following season however could be considered a breakout season for him – now fully accustomed to the Eredivisie, Bertrand was placed centrally by Bosz and Vitesse reaped the rewards. Traore finished the season with 17 goals in 36 appearances – a very impressive return given that it was only his second season in professional, top flight football. Vitesse unfortunately did not have a great season however, failing to achieve their aim of European qualification. Bertrand of course did not mind too much – he felt he had proven himself enough to at least warrant a chance in the Chelsea squad – but as we all know, Chelsea as a club in the past have notoriously been bad at handling young talent.
It’s arguable that Traoré fell victim of the exact above. Traoré impressed Mourinho, then manager of Chelsea, enough during the 2015/16 campaign’s pre season, and was given a place in the squad. 15/16 turned to be disastrous for Chelsea. A manager who’s not exactly known for youth development trying to save his Chelsea career decided not to give Traoré a real chance, thus Bertrand ended up only making 6 starts that season – most not even under José. Chelsea were 17th when Mourinho was sacked and Chelsea decided to bring in Dutchman Guus Hiddink, who took a liking to Traoré’s work ethic and gave him some games towards the end of the season.
In the following season, Traoré found himself yet again under a new coach – Antonio Conte – and Chelsea decided to loan him out again, to the fury of Bertrand who thought he deserved a proper chance at Chelsea. Ajax’s new manager, Peter Bosz (yes, that’s Traoré’s former manager at Vitesse), decided to take another chance on the Burkinian. Traoré took on the challenge. His career at Ajax started quite badly – inconsistent performances meant that fans got on his back quickly. The fans would’ve rather seen one of their own talents, like Justin Kluivert or David Neres who was purchased for a big fee, develop. After another inconsistent performance which prompted fans to sarcastically clap him off, Traoré reacted, stating that he gives “everything to win,” and that he “[doesn’t] give a shit about side issues like that”. Strong words, which were not meant in an ill mannered way, but some picked at it and used it to fuel their fire even further. The Burkinian was walking a tight rope.
There are some recurring themes that always come through when discussing Traoré. A player who believes in himself, who seems strong, assured and determined to make it big in the world of football – this drive alone could be the difference maker in how far he makes it as a player. Traoré took the criticism (whether wrong or right) from the fans onboard, and started performing during crunch time. He started stringing together top performances, culminating in a MOTM performance against Lyon in the semi-final of the Europa League, where he grabbed 2 goals and 1 assist, terrorising the Lyon back-line with his skill and finesse on the ball. Traoré knew he had to leave Chelsea in order to improve as a footballer, so he left for a top club where he could develop well at. Lyon came calling, Traoré was available for a snip (£8.8m), and the rest is history.
Traoré is extremely talented on the ball – technically – he has a great left foot, dribbles very well with flair and has a strong finish. This complements his natural agility and acceleration. At Ajax, he took criticism well and answered the fans in the right way. He was captain of the U20 in his national team at 17. The boy has established himself a great foundation, and now finds himself at the a very good club in a league that is excellent at developing young talents in Lyon. He’s now at a place where he can work on his craft at a decently competitive level. There are still some areas in his game that he needs to improve in but that will only come with more (game)time. Traoré can sometimes be naîve in his decision making in particular, which can break down attacking moves or cause his team to be exposed on the counter attack. He must learn how to become more consistent and smart not only with how he handles the ball, but in his performances too. Again, this will steadily improve with the amount of regular first team football he receives. Too many times does he drift in and out of games, sometimes not influencing them well enough at all.
We’re sure Traoré’s aware of these deficiencies. As mentioned before, his drive is relentless. The boy from Bobo-Dioulasso travelled around the world, from London, to Arnhem, to Amsterdam and has now landed in Lyon, linking up with other misunderstood talents like Depay and Fekir. Who knows? Could this be their season of redemption?
By: Thomas Anderson/@andoculture