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Eric Devin provides an in-depth scout report on Monaco’s exciting youngster, Adama Traore.
One of at least five so-named players plying their trade across the world, Monaco’s version of Adama Traore has risen to prominence quite rapidly in the last few months. The winner of this past summer’s Golden Ball as the outstanding player in the Under-20 World Cup, Traore has, in the space of just eighteen months, rocketed from being a lightly regarded and unknown prospect to one of the world’s most intriguing young players
The young Malian was brought to France from his native country by Lille in January of 2014, arrivng from AS Bakaridjan after spending his developmental years at JMG Academy Bamako in the country’s capital. The academy, run by former France international and Ivory Coast manager Jean-Marc Guillou, is fairly new, but is one of several under his stewardship throughout Africa. Among these is that of ASEC Mimosas in Abidjan. This Ivorian counterpart, albeit with a longer history and in a country with richer football traditions, has already produced such luminaries as the Toure brothers, Salomon Kalou, Didier Zokora and Gervinho.
Still, little was made of the player’s arrival, and he was soon sent out on loan to Belgian side Royal Mouscron-Peruwelz, where he played sparingly, an unsurprising result owing to his age and lack of first-team football. Included in Lille’s senior squad for the first time in 2014-15, Traore rarely saw action in the first half of the season under Rene Girard, who preferred a rather obdurate 4-3-3 for most matches.
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Despite the previous success of the midfield trio of Florent Balmont, Rio Mavuba and Idrissa Gueye, the advancing age of the trio and lack of ability to get forward with the ball at their feet (Gueye would generally be exempt from these criticisms) meant that Traore was used more often in the beginning of 2015. With Sofiane Boufal arriving from Angers in the winter window and Manchester City loanee Rony Lopes back to full health, the team made a late but ultimately failed push for European football by playing a more dynamic attacking style.
In the summer, Traore, in the wake of his exceptional performances in New Zealand, was one of several young players brought in by AS Monaco from fellow French sides. The recruits all fit the profile of being young, full of potential and having been purchased with an eye towards continuing their development. Joining the likes of Lopes, Lyon’s Fares Bahlouli, Caen’s Thomas Lemar and Saint-Etienne’s Allan Saint-Maximin, Traore’s arrival marked a distinct shift in philosophy at the club. Moving from a defensively oriented counter-attacking team with a good balance of youth and experience, Monaco’s summer moves made the team younger and even more full of prospects, but also a side more willing to get forward in attack.
While a recent ankle injury has seen Traore ruled out for some three months, an analysis of his potential and performance is still more than worthwhile. Granted, he has certainly faced stiff competition for places with the glut of young attacking talent in place at the principality, but with the club seemingly bent on cycling through players of this ilk and the injury unlikely to boost his selling price, the chance that he departs in the next two windows is slim. Thus, this profile is written more with next season in mind, as well as aiding the senior national side in qualifying for the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations.
Despite having performed well as part of a three-man midfield for Lille, Traore has a great deal of versatility in his locker. For his country this summer, he played behind a lone striker in either a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-4-1-1, acting as a playmaker. He can also operate wide on the left, having started a handful of cup matches there for Lille. While this versatility is somewhat of a blessing and a curse, it has had the decided advantage of allowing Traore more chances to see the pitch where he otherwise wouldn’t, Lille and Monaco’s fixture congestion being a boon to the number of opportunities that he received.
Of average height but on the thin side, much of Traore’s game is built around a wiry strength that tends to take opponents by surprise. Left footed but a fine finisher with either foot, the youngster is adept with the ball at his feet, using a blend of pace and guile to get forward at will. Obviously not afraid to take on a shot no matter what his position, Traore can be a willing goal-scorer, but not to the point of being selfish. With so many attacking players adept at either being creative fulcrums or providing goals, but rarely both, Traore is, in this regard, providing another example of his versatility. If anything, he could even stand to be a bit more aggressive when played in an attacking position.
Despite being used further back at Monaco, Traore has showed great dynamism playing in central midfield, lending some credence to the suggestion that some have put forth that, despite his fine summer, his best position may be as a box-to-box-midfielder. Much like Yaya Toure, (albeit without the physical element) the threat of the youngster being able to burst from deep with the ball at his feet, taking on defenders and then being able to shoot or pass makes him something akin to a one-man counterattack. While Monaco this season have played with a bit more possession, undoubtedly their best performances under Jardim have come playing teams on the counter, something with which Arsenal fans will be painfully familiar.
In assessing a young player, intangibles often come into play, and the often ineffable “workrate” is sometimes used to describe a player’s willingness to get about the pitch. While the metric of distance covered is often used as a statistical baseline in this regard, heat maps can also be instructive. Traore’s often show a player popping up all across the pitch, indicating not only a willingness to move about in defense, but in attack as well. While his attacking opportunities are somewhat limited owing to Jardim’s system, his ability to move into space both offensively and defensively speak not only to a driven player, but to one who is also showing awareness, intelligence and adaptability.
Traore’s most obvious asset, though, is easily his ability with the ball at his feet. While not quite two-footed, he has shown the ability to shoot with either foot, meaning he can easily fill both central and wider roles throughout midfield, and limiting how defenders can attempt to shackle him, as he can turn inside just as easily as he can cut outside. With good pace and close control, his versatility in attack make him a nightmare to defend, especially when running with the ball from deep.
Where Traore’s development might be hindered with the current situation at Monaco is his defensive abilities. His pace and own creativity do give him an advantage in terms of breaking up play; indeed, were it not for his injury, it was easy to see how is acquisition made him a natural successor to Geoffrey Kondogbia, getting forward while leaving Fabinho or Toulalan to protect the back four. However, his efficacy in this regard is somewhat limited owing to his size. Part of what makes a Kondogbia or even a Tiemoue Bakayoko so frightening is their combination of pace and power.
The sight of seeing a 6 foot-plus, powerfully built, midfielder running from deep with the ball at their feet at full pelt would give good cause for trepidation from opponents. There is little the player can do about his size, of course, but it may limit his opportunities to succeed at the very highest level. His former Lille teammate Idrissa Gueye, or Chile and Bayer Leverkusen’s Charles Aranguiz are good examples of players who are used as box-to-box midfielders, but whose careers may have been slightly hampered by their size.
While a fairly well-rounded player, as the previous section demonstrates, why Traore’s future may lie in central midfield, despite his impressive numbers in New Zealand, is his aggressiveness. While remaining composed in the tackle is always a good thing, prior to this summer, the player has seemed to suffer from, if not exactly a lack of confidence, perhaps a lack of decisiveness in the attacking phase of the game. While some this might admittedly be down to what was asked of him by Rene Girard at Lille, Monaco’s set-up won’t do much to aid Traore’s development here, either.
Monaco’s start to the campaign has been uneven at best, with the club failing to qualify for the Champions’ League proper against Valencia and sitting mid-table in Ligue 1. With manager Leonardo Jardim still coming to terms with his raft of new arrivals, this instability was understandable, and Traore was one of a number of players who were in and out of the team in the season’s first two months. After an injury to Tiemoue Bakayoko in the club’s Matchday 8 trip to Guingamp, a path seemed to be clearing for Traore to be regularly included, even if it was in a more defensive role as one of two deep-lying midfielders in a 4-2-3-1. However, a broken ankle sustained recently in training appears to have ruled Traore out for 3-4 months, and it remains to be seen how he will fit into the side upon his return.
While 4-2-3-1 makes the most sense for Monaco’s roster tactically, it does make it harder for Traore to be regularly included. All of Jeremy Toulalan, Fabinho and Bakayoko are firmly ahead of him in terms of playing as part of a midfield two, with Mario Pasalic also an option for Jardim. While playing wide on the left is a potential option as well, Ivan Cavaleiro, Stephan El Shaarawy and Thomas Lemar provide competition there. Even with such a logjam of players, if Monaco can progress in Europe as well as the domestic cups, there should be a surplus of opportunities upon his return.
With such a serious injury, the likely best that Traore can hope for in the current campaign is to return healthy in February and make himself a consistent part of the first eleven by season’s end. With so much uncertainty surrounding the timetable for his return, statistical benchmarks for the season in terms of goals and assists should take a back seat to playing first-team football. If Monaco stumble and fail to re-qualify for the Champions’ League, it wouldn’t be unsurprising to see the likes of Bernardo Silva, Joao Moutinho and perhaps one or two others out the door in the summer. If this the way that things play out, there will be more opportunity for Traore next season, especially if Monaco fail to make Stephan El Shaarawy’s loan permanent. While this season will likely be seen as a disappointment for the youngster after such a successful World Cup, he is still not 21 until the summer, meaning that there is still plenty of time for his development to accelerate as many would have hoped.
For his country, Traore has yet to be capped for the senior team, who are attempting to qualify for 2017’s Africa Cup of Nations, to be held in Gabon. Mali have already played two matches, defeating South Sudan at home and drawing away to Benin to top their group; qualifying resumes in March. A lot will obviously depend on his fitness, but with the country lacking in creative options, Traore should be aiming to not only be included in the squad for the tournament proper, but to be a part of the starting eleven. Obviously, the injury sustained by Traore isn’t as serious as damaged knee ligaments or something of that order, but for him to resume his formerly impressive trajectory for club and country, he will need to recover quickly, making a full return for Monaco prior to the end of the league season.
Written by Eric Devin