Adama Traore: The Answer
Prior to kickoff at Saturday’s Australia Day clash between Melbourne Victory and Sydney FC, the AAMI Park pitch played host to the induction of a fresh batch of Australian citizens. The setting was appropriate; a full stadium of people brought together by a sport largely introduced to this country by the immigrant families of decades gone by. Our multicultural identity has always been clearly evident in the context of football but after long being dominated by a strong European flavour, we are now beginning to embrace a far worldlier range of influences.
For Victory this season, it is two foreign born players, one from across the ditch and the other from an African football powerhouse (via south east Queensland), who have had the most dynamic on-field influence under the new and improved Postecoglou regime. The close-control wizadry and suddenly prolific finishing of Kiwi Marco Rojas has lit up the the A-League and even turned the heads of European scouts. But at the other end of the field, Ivorian recruit Adama Traore has been no less outstanding.
Assured, cool under pressure, tremendously skilled, quick and an excellent decision maker, Traore ticks all the key boxes required of a wing back and his stats only enhance these qualities. With 76, Traore has made more tackles than any other player in the A-League so far this season – 14 more than the next best, Manny Muscat, and twice as many as any Brisbane Roar player – and in 17 matches has received just 3 yellow cards. Further, his 80% success rate in dispossessing the opposition means these figures haven’t just come about via a combination of over-exuberance and the law of averages, but rather brilliant timing and ability in assessessing situations.
Saturday’s encounter with the team of a paler shade of blue contained another faultless display from the man from Cote d’Ivoire. Coming in the presence of the player he replaced at the left hand side of Victory’s defense, Fabio, it was a stark reminder of how far this side have come since last season and showcased the significant upgrade Victory have made in that position.
That Fabio was shown a second yellow card for a rash challenge on Rojas (whilst desperately tracking back from the opposition half) and given his marching orders, summed up his deficiencies and added an exclamation mark to the gulf in class between he and Traore. Although deployed as a defender, the Brazilian has never seemed to give much priority to his negating responsibilities, forever seeming preoccupied with making an impression further up the field. Of course, any wide defender worth his salt knows over-lapping runs are as much an expectation of the job as preventing your man getting to the byline these days, but knowing when to commit forward and when to stay at home is the trick of the trade. Fabio is a long way from mastering it, and the chances at this stage are he never will, but it’s a quality Melbourne’s new number 3 seems inately familiar with.
Time and again Traore will arrive to support Thompson or Rojas with a one-two, and even in relatively confined spaces has the confidence of his team mates to use him due to his strength and assurance on the ball. As someone who has watched every Victory game this season, the automatic expectation in a one-on-one situation is that he won’t be beaten. Last season, it was a case of hold your breath and hope.
Ange’s possession based philosophy, with its insistence on playing out from the back, wouldn’t have come nearly as far as it has this season without the influence of Traore. Although still only 22, he plays with the head of a far more experienced footballer – the “chilled” demeanour he conveys contributing enormously to an increasing level of calm across the Melbourne back four. No player is unsurpassable, but maintaining an aura of confidence, something Traore oozes, goes a long way to winning the battle as a defender.
I’ve marveled on numerous occasions when it has looked as though his man has gotten by him, only for Traore’s pace and nous in tracking the shortest distance to the ball to enable him to get back into position at what appears a cocky, laconic jog.
Traore spent the previous 3 seasons patrolling the flank for Gold Coast United, racking up 67 appearances and plenty of admirers in the process. So when United abruptly folded in 2012, there were no shortage of suitors ready to snap him up. It was Victory whose offer he couldn’t refuse.
He admits to having fallen in love with Australia since his arrival here as a teenager and will soon mark 5 years since having left the Ivory Coast, meaning the option of citizenship becomes available. On that matter late last year, Matt Windley quoted Traore as saying this: “Australia is a fantastic country, I’d love to stay here. I think the first objective is to get the (naturalisation) papers, then it’s up to the coach. If he thinks I can do something for the national team, then fantastic.”
With this in mind, and given the Socceroos long term struggles at left back, it hardly takes Paul the Octopus to predict Traore becoming Australia’s answer in that position. It’s a fantastic prospect, especially knowing that the man turning 23 this weekend – the day after a derby date with Heart – has many years of football and improvement ahead of him. Perhaps come next January’s Big Blue we’ll be watching him take the oath before pulling on the green and gold in Brazil later in the year.