Andrew Gibney profiles the young player following in the footsteps of Messi, Pogba and Iniesta...
- Date of birth: June 28, 1995
- Place of birth: Bamako, Mali
- Height: 5ft 10in
- Position: Attacking midfielder
- Current club: Lille: 24 apps, 2 goals
- International: Mali: 5 caps, 0 goals
The 60-second story
Twelve months ago, the name Adama Traoré wasn’t even known among the most educated of Lille OSC fans. He had only played 200 minutes for the second team – who play in France’s fourth division – before making his debut in Ligue 1. Initially, Traoré looked out of his depth.
Trying to cover for a number of injuries in the Lille midfield, he looked like a temporary solution at best. However, coach René Girard persevered with the youngster and by the end of the season he had established himself in the first team, with home fans calling for the 20-year-old to play more of a starting role.
Traoré took confidence from his breakout season in Ligue 1 and was an integral part of Mali’s success at the recent Under-20 World Cup in New Zealand. The Africans finished third, and with four goals and three assists in just seven games, Traoré was named Player of the Tournament ahead of Brazil’s Danilo and Sergej Milinkovic playing for champions Serbia.
Why you need to know him
It is no surprise that after picking up the Golden Ball award in New Zealand, previously won by Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta and more recently Paul Pogba, Traoré's stock has risen quickly, grabbing the attention of scouts from Manchester City, Manchester United and Chelsea.
French newspaper L’Equipe has suggested all three clubs could make a move this summer, and although there is no guarantee he will follow in their footsteps, playing at the club that developed Eden Hazard, Yohan Cabaye and Divock Origi means he is in a wonderful place to develop his ability.
As Traoré grew into his role in the Lille midfield, the recently turned 20-year-old has shown the talent to play off both feet. His debut goal against Evian was a lovely finish with his so-called weaker right-foot, and also demonstrated his growing confidence. He has fantastic instincts with the ball at his feet: the Malian will either look to drive forward at pace, or use his close control to leave defenders for dead.
Once he gets into the box, he is a nightmare to contain. Opponents can’t close down his strongest side, and he is very good at choosing whether to shoot or look for a team-mate. For Mali he played in the No.10 role, but for Lille success was found a little deeper, operating as a No.8 and thriving in the box-to-box role. His vision helps him pick out dangerous long passes, he makes some excellent late runs into the penalty area and he has the intelligence to know when to push the pace and bring the ball forward.
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At first glance, Traoré looks gangly and awkward, but he is graceful on the ball. Where he loses out most is in physical battles with stronger, more experienced midfielders. He can be a little lightweight, yet he does have the frame of someone who could play a lot stronger – that will develop with time.
Similar to his clubmate Idrissa Gana Gueye, he needs to become more assertive in the final third. It showed more with Mali at the World Cup, but when stepping up to the Lille first team he needs to believe in his ability and take more responsibility in front of goal. During his first season, you could see this begin to develop game by game, and the confidence gained from his success this summer will put him in a great position to blossom in 2015-16.
After winning the Golden Ball in New Zealand, his name will forever be linked to the superstars he will look to emulate, but he is not getting ahead of himself. "I don't even dream of it. The level of football is very high at the U20 World Cup, but from my limited experience I know that the step up to the senior side is huge. Tactically, technically, physically, I'm afraid I know what's in store for us... is much more difficult!"
Did you know?
Lille spotted Traoré when he was playing at the Academy Jean-Marc Guillou in Mali’s capital, Bamako. It was Guillou that gave Arsene Wenger, while at Cannes, his first break in club management and is the man credited with sparking the Arsenal coach’s interest in developing top African talent.
A former player for Nice and Angers, Guillou now runs a number of academies across Africa, and Traoré is likely to be one in a long history of success stories to come out of Mali over the next few years.
- Shooting 7
- Heading 5
- Tackling 6
- Pace 7
- Dribbling 8
- Creativity 7
- Work-rate 8
What happens next?
When Traoré made his first start against Lyon in October, he looked like a rabbit in the headlights. Six months later, when he scored Lille’s second goal in stoppage time against Bordeaux, you could see the growth in his belief and confidence to burst forward and the awareness to take his time and calmly finish. He impressed the club so much they rewarded him with the No.8 jersey in January – a declaration of how much hope they have that the midfielder can go on to achieve great things. Lille will hope that his rise to prominence won’t see him leave the club anytime soon. Under contract until 2019, no one believes he would ever be in a position to see out that deal, but if it keeps him in France for another 12 months it is only going to benefit both the club and the player.