First Look: Adama Traoré

Adama Traore of Mali celebrates after scoring a goal. (Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

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FACT BOX

Name: Adama Traoré

Age: 20

Date of Birth: 28/06/1995

Nationality: Malian

Club: Lille

Position: Midfielder

Height: 5ft 10

Weight 11st 3lbs

Preferred Foot: Left

With little over quarter of an hour left on the clock in the third place play off, Mali are 1-0 down against their African counterparts Senegal. In desperate need of some inspiration, Traoré stands over the free kick, breathless, as a single bead of sweat trickles down the side of his face. The ball sits 25 yards out, just to the right of the penalty area. He takes one look at the ground, then looks up at the goal. A deep breath, followed by a two step run up and… whack! The ball screams into the top corner after a devastating left footed strike. There was the lifeline, there was the inspiration, and 15 minutes later, there was a 3-1 victory and a third place finish for the Eagles.

After a string of star performances for the vibrant and exciting Mali side at the U20 World Cup, in addition to some impressive cameos for Lille last season, Traoré has officially announced himself to the world. In fact, he was so good at the U20 World Cup that he was awarded the Adidas Golden Ball as the best player in the competition with four goals and three assists in seven games.

Naturally, success brings recognition and during the start of the summer transfer window the midfielder has already been linked with a host of clubs, including Manchester City, Manchester United and Chelsea. Despite these reports, Lille and their new manager Herve Renard have shown great faith in the 20 year-old and are confident that he will stay with the club, not to mention that his recently signed contract runs until 2019.

Born in Bamako, Mali, Traoré began his career in 2008, playing for and progressing through the youth ranks of the Bamako JMG Academy. The JMG Academy is a sports organisation and training company established by former French footballer Jean-Marc Guillou, who played for various French clubs throughout his career including the national side at the 1978 World Cup. Guillou is also known for giving Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger his first job in coaching, appointing him as his assistant manager at Cannes in 1983. In the summer of 2013, he was signed by AS Bakaridjan, a mid-table side from the Malien Premiere Division. Traoré made three appearances for the club before signing for Lille on a free transfer in January 2014 at the age of 18. He was quickly loaned out for six months to Royal Mouscron-Péruwelz, Lille’s partner club, where he struggled to make any significant impact.

For the 2014/15 season, Traoré was placed in the Lille II side who play in the Championnat de France Amateur (CFA) which is the fourth division of French football. He made three appearances for Lille II before being called up to the 18 man squad to face Nice on September 24, in which he played 13 minutes in a 1-0 loss. Despite the defeat, he was called up for Lille’s next three games in October against Bastia, Lyon and Guingamp, where he would play a total of 120 minutes. After this short but positive spell in the side, he would not be called up again until after the New Year where his rapid rise would begin, as he started to become a more influential figure in the Les Dogues first team.

Fast forward to January 7, against Evian T-G, where he was introduced as a halftime substitute into a Lille side lacking in creativity and thrust from midfield. He would play as a box-to-box midfielder, and it took him only 16 minutes to make an impact, scoring the only goal of the game in a 1-0 win. Just 19 years of age at the time, this would be a defining moment for the Malian. If he wasn’t involved in the first team picture beforehand, he definitely would be now after receiving great praise from the media and then-manager Rene Girard. Traoré would feature in 14 of Lille’s last 19 games in Ligue 1, playing the full 90 minutes in eight of those either playing behind the striker or as a left sided box-to-box midfielder.

A characteristic which instantly impresses when looking at Traoré is his ability to score goals from midfield, and the variety in which he scores them. He scored six goals for club and country last season, three using his left foot, two using his right foot and even one with his head. These goals are not just tap-ins by any stretch, scoring a bullet from the edge of the box against Senegal on June 20, as well as his aforementioned strike into the bottom corner against Evian T-G on January 7, both with his supposed weaker right foot. Goals are not a priority for midfielders, but Traoré looks to have the ability to touch double figures every season with the composure and variation he has shown in front of goal.

Another impressive attribute that the young Malian possesses is a real physical presence in the middle of the park. Despite his rather slight 11st 3lb frame, he can handle himself amongst some of the more physically dominant midfielders around. A perfect example of this would be against Saint Etienne on March 22, where in the 23rd minute he would make an excellent tackle on Jeremy Clement who weighs nearly 14 pounds more than him, before shielding the ball away from two more Saint Etienne players in addition to retaining possession. Traoré averages 2.08 interceptions and wins 1.56 tackles per 90 minutes, which he may need to improve slightly should he want to lock down a midfield spot for Lille, but they are heartening numbers for a young midfielder learning more about the defensive side of the game.

Don’t be fooled, Traoré is not just a midfield workhorse. He displays creativity and flair routinely in the final third. He has been stationed as a number ten on occasion for Lille, and this was also his primary position throughout the U20 World Cup for Mali. Quick with a low centre of gravity, he can adapt his combative style to be an intelligent and graceful playmaker. Despite only recording three assists for club and country last season, he averages 1.3 key passes per 90 minutes which are described as ‘a pass/cross that is instrumental in creating a goal-scoring opportunity’ in addition to a notable 88% pass completion – important numbers for that number ten role. An illustration of his sparkle in the danger zones was his assist for Mali’s third goal against Senegal on June 20 where he came short to collect a rehearsed set piece routine, before flicking a perfectly weighted pass around the corner for Diadie Samassekou to run on through and score.

After a great second half of the season in northern France with Lille, and a brilliant U20 World Cup with Mali in New Zealand, now is the time for Traoré to really kick on and aim to play first team football week in, week out. With the £9m departure of Idrissa Gueye to Aston Villa, Lille lose a lot of tenacity and energy in their midfield but Traoré could be the perfect replacement with his mix of technical skill and defensive bite. He has been tried on a few occasions in the number ten role, and while he certainly has the capacity to play there he looks to be far more effective playing as an all action midfielder on the left of a midfield three, also known as the number eight role.

Having been plucked from the obscurity of the Malien Premiere Division as a teenager, Traoré has taken European football in his stride and plays with a pleasing youthful exuberance. Having just turned 20, he may not be up to the standard required to start for some of the top English clubs he has been linked with, but he should take their potential interest as encouragement. Ahead of next season, Lille seem very excited about their young midfielder and with some of the football he has flaunted over the past six months or so, the French club definitely should not be the only ones.

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First Look: Adama Traoré
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