Over the past year, the Idiots Guide to Being a Lazy Pundit has been given a new favourite. It goes a little something like this. You’ve got to watch Adama Traore tear apart a Premier League defence and then say:
“Hats off to Nuno Espírito Santo, he really has developed Adama Traore into a world-class player. When he arrived at Molineux he had no end product, but Nuno is getting the best out of him now.”
Righto. Adama Traore, the lad who came through the Barcelona academy, was the best player in the Championship for a season and was signed by a Premier League club for £18m (and probably would have been sold for more if that wasn’t his release clause), that Adama Traore had no end product, did he?
The myth that Traore is a sprinter who has been nurtured into a world-class talent only by Nuno needs debunking. The national media make out like the former Barcelona man had some overnight rise to brilliance. This is far from the case.
For years Traore was tipped as one of the hottest prospects to emerge from the Barcelona academy. However, at the end of the 2014/15 season, he was sold to Aston Villa.
La Blaugrana had just secured the treble, and 19-year-old Traore had Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez, Neymar and Pedro ahead of him. The quartet scored an astonishing 133 goals between them that season, so no shame in being adjudged surplus to requirements at the age of 19.
The Spain Under-21 winger spent just one injury-ravaged season at Villa and was never given a chance. His ten league appearances culminated in 159 minutes of football – appearances which yielded two assists – however, playing under the ever-adventurous, expansive Rémi Garde for most of the season, Traore didn’t stand a chance.
After a season at Villa Park, Traore made a deadline day move to Middlesbrough. It’s worth noting that the move saw Barcelona waive their right to exercise the buy-back clause they put into Traore’s contract following his departure from Camp Nou – the Spanish giants clearly saw potential in the pacey winger to insist on such a clause.
It was his spell on Teesside where Traore really began to show what he was capable of. Cameo performances against Arsenal and Tottenham saw the youngster tearing apart some of the best teams in the league.
The only criticism which could be levelled at him was his end product, failing to record a goal or an assist in his 27 appearances in his debut season. However, despite what the pundits will tell you, this came a season later while at Boro, not at Wolves.
Against all the odds – under the stewardship of Tony Pulis – Traore developed into a wing wonder. His first season in the Championship saw him regularly tearing teams apart with ease. His five goals and ten assists undoubtedly dragged an average Middlesbrough side into fifth in the table.
In a Championship campaign which saw the likes of James Maddison, Rúben Neves and Ryan Sessegnon grace the second tier, Traore was without a doubt the best player in the league.
His importance to the side was highlighted the following season. Having seen his release clause triggered by Wolves after his incredible campaign at the Riverside, Boro scored 18 goals fewer the following campaign. There was little to no ‘Plan B’; Boro’s plan the previous season had been ‘give the ball to Traore’.
Despite an £18m move to Molineux, Traore found himself on the fringes of first-team action. With Diogo Jota, Hélder Costa and Ivan Cavaleiro all seemingly ahead of him in the pecking order, Traore would make just eight Premier League starts in 2018/19.
Wolves were stacked with wide talent, though their forward options were limited. Raúl Jiménez aside, the newly-promoted side lacked any real firepower. So, what did Nuno do? He stuck Traore upfront.
The experiment clearly didn’t work, Traore is at his best when he picks the ball up from deep and runs at men, playing with his back to goal à la Jiménez isn’t for him.
After a season of experimenting, Nuno gave in and played Traore in his preferred position out wide, and what do you know? The Spaniard was a revelation, producing scintillating performances and grabbing goals against Spurs and Manchester City.
Pundits up and down the country were up in arms, where had this player come from? How had Nuno nurtured him into this world-cl
Wrong. The next time you hear Paul Merson or Alan Shearer lauding the Portuguese tactician for developing such a magnificent talent, remember – he was an unbelievable footballer when Wolves spent £18m on him, the reason he suddenly jumped to the attention of the national media is because Nuno decided to play him in his proper position.