It is well documented that Chelsea’s state of the art complex located in the village of Cobham, otherwise known as the ‘Beverly Hills of Britain’ houses and trains some of football’s most talented youngsters. Indeed Abramovich’s seemingly unlimited investment within the academy is seeing results on the youth stage with Chelsea capturing the UEFA Youth League and FA Youth Cup just last season to add to a mounting list of academy accolades. Yet Chelsea’s stockpiling of some of the game’s future stars has made it all too easy to overlook one of Africa’s most exciting young forwards, Bertrand Traoré.
Who is Bertrand Traoré?
Outside the landlocked country of Burkina Faso, Western Africa, few would know of the immense potential in a young man named Bertrand Traoré. As Africa’s fourth largest producer of gold, Burkina Faso may have fashioned something of equal value to the precious metal in the realm of football with Traoré.
Traoré began his career with AJ Auxerre of France where his brother Alain was also situated, but Bertrand’s time with the Burgundy-based club would only last a solitary year once Chelsea came calling. Nevertheless Traoré’s move to West London was not so simple.
Talent Radar Accolades
In August 2010, Burkina Faso Sports Minister Jean-Pierre Palm announced that a then-teenage Traoré would be joining Chelsea’s academy, rejecting a certain Manchester United and Marseille in the process. Unsurprisingly Traoré had caught the eyes of England’s elite after shining at the Under-17 World where at the age of just 14, he became the youngest player to ever appear in the finals of the competition. This trend would soon follow when the Burkinabe forward made his debut for Burkina Faso aged 15. Now 20 years-old Traoré is a regular fixture for Les Etalons, translated as ‘the Stallions’, and holds 24 caps for his nation including two goals.
Unfortunately for the youngster the move would have to wait until the January transfer window of 2014, once Traoré had turned 18. Regulations prevent football clubs from signing any foreign players under the age of 18 unless both team and player are from an EU country, or are less than 100km apart across an international border, or finally if the player’s parents move to that country for non-football reasons. As Blues fans will know, Traoré was allowed to compete prior to his transfer in Chelsea’s summer tour of Asia as a trialist where he displayed an eye for goal, notching a goal in a 4-1 win over a Malaysia XI before scoring a beautiful curling effort in an 8-1 mauling of the Indonesia All Stars.
Once registered with Chelsea, Traoré would join partner club Vitesse Arnhem in a period spanning 18 months to gain regular first team football and comply with work permit regulations. Traoré quietly impressed in his first six months with Vitesse, scoring three times in thirteen appearances for the Eredivisie side, including a goal against Dutch champions Ajax. The following season Traoré would return to haunt Ajax, scoring his first brace in a shock 4-0 win over the Netherlands’ most successful team. It was this season when Traoré truly made his talent known by making the move from the right wing to a lone striker role, a switch that proved hugely successful as he recorded 13 league goals at a rate of nearly one-per-start.
Style of Play, Strengths and Weaknesses
As expected of a twenty year-old, Traoré has a somewhat daring approach to his game but unlike many of his age he has the quality to match his ambition. When starting on the right Traoré had a clear tendency to cut inside onto his favoured left foot, which often resulted in an effort on goal. Indeed shooting from distance is an obvious facet of his game and is usually a useful weapon rather than a hindrance. Traoré’s ability to shoot from the edge of the box should not be deterred, it is certainly a strength he holds, but learning when to shoot and when to retain possession is something to acquire with game time and experience.
His shooting ability, along with an obvious shortage in quality in the position, was one of the reasons why Vitesse opted to play him in a lone striker role. A role he performed largely successfully but one he will not perform in the Premier League. At 5’10” and with a somewhat slight frame, he simply does not have the presence to lead the line. Traoré is versatile and is capable of playing anywhere across a front-three, but playing off a front-man seems a far more viable option than as a central striker and would also allow Traoré to demonstrate some of his strengths mentioned below.
As mentioned before Traoré’s rather fearless approach can also be seen in his dribbling, which to a lesser extent is also a strength. As with his shooting Traoré will be expected to know when to carry the ball and when to offload it to a team-mate but already at such a young age the man from Burkina Faso has shown a maturity beyond his years and is intelligent on the ball, leading to his next strength; passing.
Traoré possess a wand of a left foot that he uses to his advantage in terms of shooting, but can also be seen in his passing. He holds an eye for a pass with timing, weight and accuracy of the ball usually very good. However he is not a man to perform a Pirlo-esque pass from his own half to launch an attack. One reason for this is Traoré more concerned with matters high up the field, a trait that also detracts from his game; defending. Traoré is a team player and will assume responsibility but at the same time he will not bust a gut to help out in defence, something José Mourinho may seek to change in the young forward’s game.
What does the future hold?
Traoré is undoubtedly of the same skillset and ability of many of his fellow professionals at Chelsea but not of the same experience. Moreover he will also be competing for a place in Mourinho’s XI where Chelsea have an embarrassment of riches boasting the likes of Eden Hazard, Oscar, Willian and now Pedro. Therefore forcing his way into the first team may prove extremely difficult and a lengthy process.
On a brighter note Mourinho’s pre-match press conference against Porto should give hope to Chelsea’s younger players, like Traoré, after an utterly underwhelming start to the season from some of the more established and senior players “at this moment I don’t have untouchables.”
At the end of the Dutch season, Vitesse coach Peter Bosz confirmed Mourinho’s admiration for Traoré by saying: “Jose Mourinho is crazy about him. If the opportunity is there, they [Chelsea] prefer to take him back.” Indeed Mourinho has stated that Traoré would have been part of his plans from an earlier stage if it were not for visa issues.
As of yet however, it seems Mourinho has preferred the more physically developed Kenedy, recently recruited from Fluminense of Brazil, when rotating the three behind Diego Costa. Unlike Kenedy who has had outings in all of Chelsea’s competitions thus far this season, Traoré has only featured once in a 4-0 victory against Maccabi Tel Aviv as a 77th minute substitute. Although at 20 years of age Traoré still has time on his side and should benefit from training with international players day in and day out.
Personally I hope Traoré does become a starter in the near future but the no. 14 may fall to the same fate as the previous number 14, André Schürrle, with minutes few and far between at this stage.
Written by Conor O’Connell
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