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In 2013, a young La Masia product entered the pitch for Barcelona, replacing Neymar. He was by no means a classic Catalan product. Big and muscular, Adama Traore did not possess the silky footballing skills so closely associated with Spanish footballers.
His dominant performances for the B-team had built quite the reputation of a player seemingly unstoppable with the ball. Yet, to have been thrust against the trio of Messi, Suarez and Neymar meant there was no space for him under Luis Enrique.
Aston Villa was his next destination, which proved to be a disaster in the youngster’s career. Facing relegation, the Villans were playing catch-up for most of the season. Traore barely had a look in the first-team with the then Villa manager Remi Garde favouring experience over youth to save the club from the drop. Apart from his devastating run against Sunderland, he made little impact as Aston Villa were relegated, finishing bottom of the table in 2016.
Aitor Karanka then signed him for Middlesbrough on the deadline day of the 2016 summer transfer window. The midland club were on the up, having been promoted to the Premier League and Traore finally had a manager who believed in his abilities.
Under Karanka, he burst into life, running at opposition defences and causing havoc in the final third. His deadly pace offered an out ball for Middlesbrough who were acclimatising to the demands of Premier League football.
His upturn in form was an encouragement but Middlesbrough struggled in the drop zone. While his 5.7 dribbles per game meant he was on-par with the likes of Neymar and Messi, a paltry return of just 1 assist in 27 appearances highlighted a severe lack of end product in his game. Karanka eventually lost his job and Middlesbrough were relegated at the end of 2017 season.
A managerial scuffle followed which was finally concluded with the appointment of Tony Pulis. The experienced manager re-instated Traore to the starting line-up in a bid to harness his physical prowess and the gamble paid off. The Spaniard’s movement off the ball improved and he no longer resembled a headless chicken chasing long balls.
There is a new found maturity in Traore’s approach made evident by his 5 goals and 6 assists in the Championship this season. He is one of the first names on the team-sheet under Pulis and is averaging 6.7 dribbles per game, higher than Messi who averages 4.9. His rich vein of form has Middlesbrough competing for the playoff spots – a proposition which looked bleak following Gary Monk’s dismissal back in November.
His performance against Leeds has been the highlight of this season where he absolutely destroyed the Elland Road side, completing 10 dribbles in 90 minutes.
On his day, Adama has the potential to ransack any rear-guard in world football and if he can continue this upheaval, it won’t be long before we see him tearing up the Champions League.