Adama Traoré, a unicorn in football

The unbelievable combination of speed, strength and take-on ability make him one of the most fun players to watch in football, but his lack of end-product makes him equally as frustrating to watch; Adama Traoré is one of a kind.

Newly promoted Premier League side Wolverhampton Wanderers recently broke their transfer record on the Spanish winger this summer, with Wolves signing him for £18 million on the penultimate day of the transfer window.

He wasn’t ready to play the league opener against Everton (2-2), but he did come on in the second half in the 2-0 defeat against Leicester City the week after. In those 45 minutes, he immediately showed what he does best, and better than anyone in the league: beating his man.

Those kinds of dribbling stats are normal to him. Last season, granted it was in the Championship, he completed 7.3 take-ons per game, per WhoScored. That’s more than anyone in the top five leagues. Only PSG’s Neymar Jr, at 7.1 per league game, came close to the 22-year-old.

The Spaniard’s main weapon is his incredible acceleration and sprint speed. If he sees a patch of clean grass in front of him, he’ll dive into it, and you won’t catch him. Really, you can’t fathom how quick Traoré is if you haven’t seen him play. Look at this clip from last season of him recovering as Rushian Hepburn-Murphy breaks away for Aston Villa.

However, it’s not just straight-line speed, it’s the total physical package combined with his ballerina-esque feet. Whether it’s just him putting on the afterburners, doing a double body faint or something else, it’s quite unreal how easily he can glide past his marker, how easily he absorbs challenges. Here’s a good example of his unstoppable-ness.

I can’t name any other player who is so physically dominant, but at the same time so incredibly agile and so extremely fast (Yannick Bolasie? (lol)).

The downside of Traoré is his lack of end-product. It’s quite remarkable that a graduate of Barcelona’s famous La Masia academy, where passing and movement are indoctrinated from a very young age, is so bad at that.

When he’s on one of his marauding runs down the right channel, he rarely looks around him to see what his options are, which makes him seem quite selfish with the ball. He crosses a lot, mostly because he runs out of pitch, but those crosses are often blindly floated in, hoping someone will be there. The quality of the crossing also leaves much to be desired, to put it lightly.

Traoré was only 17 years and 10 months old when he made his Barcelona debut in 2013. Picture per Francisco Javier Fernández.

This is why his output in his first two Premier League seasons was horrible after he came over from Barcelona, where he only played 93 minutes. No goals and two assists in 37 Premier League games spread over two seasons, that’s simply unacceptable for a winger, no matter how good of a dribbler you are. He has all the talent in the world, but it almost looked like he didn’t know what to do with it. Incredibly frustrating to watch.

However, last season, which he spent with Middlesbrough in the Championship, there was hope. He started contributing to goals on a regular basis. 5 goals and 10 assists in 26 league starts, 1.4 key passes and 1.5 shots per game, that’s a promising sign. His crossing has also improved massively, which is apparent as he started taking Boro’s corners last season. Watch him pick out Rudy Gestede with a drilled cross here after one of his trademark down the right.

How will he now adapt to the Premier League? Will we see the old version, the one who bombed down the right wing but never contributed to the scoreline? Or will we get a new and improved version, one that will improve on the foundation he laid last season?

Based off of his debut, which lasted 45 minutes, it looks promising. He created two chances besides the aforementioned seven take-ons, which is very tidy. He’ll have Raúl Jiménez down the middle at Wolves this season, a tall striker who’ll convert crosses if he gets fed them. If Traoré can keep these chance creation stats up, assists will come.

Last season, Adama Traoré looks to have finally learned how to express his obvious talent into goal contribution. If he can keep his current upward trajectory up, the world should be very afraid of the 22-year-old. Less frustration, more excitement. And even if he’ll go back to his old dribbling-merchant self, I’ll be there for it. With his overly muscly body that somehow allows him to run at lightning speed (normal bodies don’t work like that), he’s truly a unique player, end-product or not. He’s a unicorn.

Embed from Getty Images
Featured image per Flickr user ‘Mark Fletcher’


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