This summer at Chelsea has so far been quiet, with only a handful of significant deals to report. Goalkeeper Petr Cech has been sold to Arsenal for £10 million while Didier Drogba has left the club for the second time as he courts a move to America. His replacement is Monaco’s Radamel Falcao, who joins on a season-long loan with a reputation to restore after a disappointing spell at Manchester United.
The Colombian will supplement Diego Costa, aiming to build on a successful first year at Stamford Bridge in which he hit 21 goals, and Loic Remy, whose seven goals in the league were a vital contribution. 21-year-old Patrick Bamford, named Player of the Year in the Championship last year after scoring 17 goals for Middlesbrough, has made no secret of his desire to stay and challenge them for a first-team spot, but it looks like the arrival of Falcao will see him head out on another loan move.
Another young striker will get the chance to play his way into Jose Mourinho’s plans as Bertrand Traore’s newly-obtained work permit will allow him to travel with the club for their pre-season tour of the USA in mid-July.
The Burkina Faso international managed to impress the Portuguese coach on a similar trip to Asia as a 17-year-old two years ago, where both Mourinho and defender Gary Cahill spoke highly of the striker’s talent. But after two seasons of patiently waiting for permission to play in England, is he ready to be Chelsea’s emerging star, or will he find himself biding his time for another year?
The potential of Traore was clear from the time Chelsea signed him from Auxerre in 2010, with the London club told that they had acquired a “future superstar” after reportedly beating Manchester United to the teenager’s signature. Confusion would then reign over Chelsea’s possession of the player as they had registered him on a student visa but he was taken on the 2013 pre-season tour of Thailand as a triallist, where he made his debut in a game against Singha All Stars.
Before signing for Chelsea’s academy Traore became the youngest player ever to appear in the under-17 World Cup as he turned out for Burkina Faso’s youth team at the age of 14. He won the under-17 African Championship with them two years later, with a victory over Rwanda.
Traore would then make his debut for the senior side, for whom he now has 24 caps, as a 15-year-old in 2011; he has since played in two African Cup of Nations for his country. He is definitely one of the most exciting young players on the continent if not already on his way to achieving his dream of becoming “the best player in Africa and maybe Europe also.”
Traore scored twice during Chelsea’s tour of south-east Asia in July 2013 and was man of the match in the 0-4 rout of Malaysia, where he opened the scoring with an accomplished finish. That drew the acclaim of Mourinho, who had previously only witnessed the striker playing for the academy on DVD, and by October he was signed to a four-and-a-half year contract.
Issues would still surround his work permit, however, and after completing his move in January 2014, he was sent on loan to Vitesse Arnhem, Chelsea’s sister club, in the Netherlands.
The Burkinabe would spend 18 months with Vitesse, being fielded as a right-winger for his first season and scoring three goals, before being moved to a central striker for the second season. 17 goals from 36 games followed as he helped fire Vitesse into the Europa League.
Manager Peter Bosz claimed that Mourinho was “crazy” about Traore and that the Portuguese wanted the striker in his squad for the forthcoming season. “If the opportunity is there, they prefer to take him back” said Bosz, and with a work permit finally granted it seems his parent club have taken full advantage of that opportunity.
Style and strengths: is he ready to make the step up?
Traore credits his spell in the Eredivisie for his boost in physicality, and despite standing at sub 6-feet, it’s his growth in strength that was one of the factors in Bosz’s decision to move him from the wing to a conventional number 9. Traore’s impressive build and power allow him to fend off defenders when required and glide past them on his route to goal.
His biggest asset, however, is his excellent first touch and the elegance of control that can see him glide away from markers. Naturally left-footed, Traore often takes up a post on the right to cut inside and get shots away, but he is gifted on both feet, making it easy for him to turn away from defenders with a single movement.
The Burkinabe has been blessed with fine balance and an eye for goal that merge together to produce the variety of quality goals he has hit for Vitesse, most notably one against PEC Zwolle where he beat two defenders with a fine piece of skill before curling a shot past the goalkeeper. He also hit a volley against the same opposition, indicating his deadly instinct inside the box to go with his grace and cleverness outside of it.
Previously used as a midfielder, Traore is adept at taking up intelligent positions around the box which makes him difficult to track and allows him to pop up in dangerous areas to get shots away. His habit of dropping away from the main striking positions also permits him to be creative, hence the five assists that accompanied his impressive goal return last term.
A highlights reel will show a player who enjoys his game and plays with an exuberance, producing audacious touches and instinctive shots that will have to be harnessed if he is to adapt to the rigour of the Premier League.
"He's a great player – a wonderful player, delightful to watch, intelligent on the ball, a good passer of the ball, fearless, daring – he's the kind of player you love to see all the time” was the verdict of Rwandan coach Sellas Tetteh during the African under-17 championship in 2011. It is clear that Traore has not lost any of those traits whilst advancing through his teenage years.
Where would he fit in at Chelsea?
Mourinho may encourage the 19-year-old to become more disciplined with his style of play, despite doubts being raised over the player’s fitness by Poalo Duarte, the former Burkina Faso coach who handed the teenager his senior national debut. But Chelsea can do much worse than utilise Traore’s versatility and ability to be an impact option within the squad next season.
Many clubs have already inquired about taking Traore on another 12-month loan, but Chelsea are reportedly keen to keep the Burkinabe as a fourth choice striker or a wide option in midfield. He would definitely add depth to the champions’ squad.
That said, the Blues may find it more suitable to loan the youngster to a fellow Premier League club for the forthcoming campaign where he can adjust to a new culture and setting without facing the frustrations of playing a reserve option to three strikers of immense talent.
For the time being, however, there is Chelsea’s tour of the USA in the offing, and that will be Traore’s chance to show just how he’s built on the vast potential he displayed in Thailand two years ago. New York Red Bulls, PSG and Barcelona will likely discover the 19-year-old’s visceral dynamism and athleticism this month, whilst the rest of Europe will do so over the coming few seasons.