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Adama Traore 'ready for top Premier League club' after long journey from Barcelona

5:00 PM MYT 23/01/2020
Adama Traore Wolves 2019-20
He has been among the best performers in the Premier League this season, finally delivering on the potential that had been apparent since his teens

Eusebio Sacristan, the former Barcelona coach, paints a familiar picture of Adama Traore.

Nobody has ever doubted the 23-year-old’s talents, raw and smouldering as they may have been, but for all the ability in his feet, all the power in his muscular frame, things didn't always come together for the Wolves star.

Blind alleys have been run down, crosses shanked into the stands, team-mates left screaming into the void for passes that never came. 

“I used to tell him he had to make the right decisions," former Spain midfielder Eusebio tells Goal.

“If he had a one-on-one, he had to face it with no doubt in his mind but if there were two or more defenders, he had to make the right decision, because he couldn’t beat them all the time.

“Making the right decision when he had the advantage, and looking for a team-mate when he didn’t.”

Traore had arguably been a victim of his own brilliance.

Even in the Championship, his dribbling ability was among the best in the world – which brought him greater attention and scrutiny from fans and defenders alike. Teams would put two, three, even four men on him, and too often he couldn't make the right decision.

“My first memory of him is when I was told – while I was the B team coach – that there was a very young player in the Juvenil team who had incredible skills and a great future,” Eusebio remembers of a young Traore. 

“He was giving amazing performances with his team, and the club thought he had great potential. 

“So, we went to watch him and decided to promote him to the B team to see how he responded at a higher level.

“He responded very well because he was very physically powerful, which allowed him to compete with experienced professional players.”

On November 23, 2013, Traore made his La Liga debut at the age of 17, coming on in place of Neymar in front of an expectant Camp Nou crowd.

Four years and two days later, he was dropped for a 33-year-old Stewart Downing as Middlesbrough were beaten 3-0 at home by Championship rivals Derby County.

However, by November 23, 2019, six years to the day from his Barca debut, Traore was providing the match-winning assist for Raul Jimenez to secure a 2-1 win at Bournemouth and put Nuno Espirito Santo’s buoyant Wolves side fifth in the Premier League.

It has been a steep, and at times hugely frustrating, learning curve.

No goals and Premier League relegation at Villa.

No goals and Premier League relegation at Boro.

Half a season of some promise but more disappointment in the Championship on Teesside but then, from nowhere, inspiration – in the form of Tony Pulis.

The Welshman was an unpopular manager at Middlesbrough, but he was the first coach to get the best out of Traore at first-team level.

Brimming with confidence, the youngster was a one-man team at times, dragging a sluggish side to the play-offs with five goals and 10 assists.

When the promotion dream was crushed by former side Villa, Wolves pounced, breaking their club transfer record to pay Traore's £18 million ($23m) release clause.

“Adama was my best buddy so to lose him is really difficult,” Pulis admitted.

“When I came to the club, he looked a little bit sullen and didn’t have any confidence but, at the end, he played with a smile on his face and excited a lot of people.”

That smile was replaced by a familiar frustrated grimace during his first season in old gold.

A last-minute winner at West Ham in September proved to be his only goal of the campaign, with only three assists to accompany it.

But Nuno knew what he could be. Like Pulis, he believed in Traore, and was prepared to give him time, trying him out in different roles around the pitch.

“We don’t give up on players ever – we try to improve them,” Nuno said.

“That is growth and the natural process. Some players take longer and some players can express themselves sooner in the team.

“If he doesn’t give you a fantastic performance in one game or during a period, you cannot give up.”

Nuno has been more than rewarded in 2019-20. Consistent performances in the Premier League and in Europe, blistering goals against Manchester City and Tottenham, a growing understanding with the players around him – Traore has emerged as a unique weapon in Wolves’ arsenal.

He would arguably improve every Premier League team outside the top two, and you can’t help but wonder what Jurgen Klopp or Pep Guardiola could do with him.

A Spain call-up has been offered; Man City, Barca and Real Madrid have all been linked – moves his old coach Eusebio believes he is ready for.

But – and there is a lesson here for so many players – Eusebio knows the destination couldn’t have been reached without the journey. 

“When they start so young and look like a brilliant player so soon, it looks like their development gets stopped but it doesn’t,” he explains.

“All players need to reach a point of maturity. He is in a great moment now, but he kept improving himself and his qualities to reach his best possible level. 

“I think he is ready for the jump to a big Premier League club, but I am convinced as well that he needed to take this road, this process, to reach that level.”

Traore had to fall before he could rise, struggle before he could win. Now, he’s ready to reap the rewards for his hard work.