By Chris Dunlavy
ADAMA Traore was just eight when he was scouted by Barcelona and invited to attend a trial at La Masia.
He didn’t need directions. Born in the suburb of L’Hospitalet de Llobregat, the young winger lived less than a mile from Camp Nou.
By nine, he was a classmate of Hector Bellerin, a pupil of Xavi and Andres Iniesta. On YouTube, a 20-minute video shows Traore zipping around as the legendary duo dole out a passing masterclass.
Back then, he was a short, skinny right-back. Then, almost overnight, he blossomed into a hulking, musclebound winger with rocket fuel in his boots.
“He is the fastest player I have ever coached,” the former Barca coach Andres Carrasco told Sky Sports in 2015. “When he was 14 or 15, they had to kill him to get the ball off him.
“We would be defending a corner, it would come out to him on the edge of the box and he would go and score. Box-to-box, driving, dribbling round every player.”
Carrasco called Traore The Quadruped. “Because he’s able to pump the legs and the arms to keep running,” he explained. Though never timed over 100m – Barca sniff at such frivolity – coaches at La Masia all agree they’ve never seen a quicker player.
In November 2013, Traore replaced Cesc Fabregas during a La Liga clash with Granada. At 17 years and nine months, he was the eighth-youngest player ever to make his Barca bow.
“Adama is a good player who has done spectacular things,” said manager Luis Enrique. “He has the level to play for the Barca first team, without a doubt.”
Traore, though, never played for the Blaugrana again. And today, the man once touted as the best young winger in the world can’t get a game for Middlesbrough. Worse, he is viewed by many supporters as a liability. You can see why. A fortnight ago, he missed the team bus and was dumped from the squad to face Barnsley. A week later, he was deployed as a 79th-minute substitute – and promptly gifted Cardiff a match-winning penalty.
Then, on Tuesday night, Traore turned on the after burners and roasted Bournemouth alive in a scintillating man-of-the-match display.
Such hair-pulling, face-palming, maddening inconsistency is Traore in microcosm. Barca failed to unravel the enigma, as did Aston Villa following an ill-fated move in 2015.
“He’s explosive and definitely gets you off your seat,” said Villa caretaker Eric Black. “But whether he can combine that with the structure of not conceding and various other elements of the game, I don’t know.”
Predecessor Remi Garde was rather more blunt. “You cannot have a player, except for maybe Messi, who can walk on the pitch and play only when his team has the ball,” he said. “Nobody can do that.”
Injuries and a twitter rant about feeling “underestimated (and) worthless” did little to dispel the doubts. Traore made just ten appearances as Villa bombed out of the Premier League.
At the time, Traore argued that he just needed time to adapt. “It is not because I’m fast with the ball that my decision-making can be wayward,” he told the Telegraph last year. “It’s because I’ve been in the Premier League for only one year.”
Yet Traore is now in his third season and – after a second relegation with Boro in May – remains a maelstrom of brilliance and blunders. Rarely is he trusted to start a game.
In mitigation, Traore is just 21. At that age, mental lapses are understandable.
Let’s not forget that Jamie Vardy wore a tag and played Non-League football before getting his brain in gear.
With an indulgent manager – think Adel Taarabt under Neil Warnock – Traore has the talent to light up the division.
Unfortunately, with a managerial lifespan of 12 months the norm, there aren’t too many of them around.
Traore is no write-off, but the time has come to adapt or die. Track back. Press defenders. Look at the whiteboard, not through it.
In football, reputation matters. And, if he’s not careful, a player once described by Tim Sherwood as “a little bit of Ronaldo and a little bit of Messi” might find himself a little bit unwanted.