Few players are as recognizable, or as revered, as Adama Traore and – more specifically – his remarkable physique. A product of La Masia, a quick Google search would reveal that it wasn’t always this way. Traore used to be a diminutive Spanish winger with blistering pace and an eye for goal. Spending most of his time in Barcelona B, scoring 8 goals in 63 appearances, Traore graduated to the first team, only to leave with a single appearance under his belt. It’s a trend that followed Traore through his career – at least until he joined Wolverhampton Wanderers after a few years in Middlesbrough. Under Nuno Espirito Santo’s management, Adama has grown into a player with notable offensive traits, and a major part of Wolves’ success since they were promoted from the Championship.
Nowadays, they’re a mainstay in the Premier League, a squad who tasted European football, capable of going toe-to-toe with any of the ‘Big Six.’ Traore was flying high, earning his first call-up to the Spanish national team in 2020. And then he stopped scoring and assisting. In fact, the goal drought went on for 11 full months, until he finally broke the duck against Crystal Palace in January 2021. So what’s going wrong for Traore? Often described as a rough diamond, he seemed to find his groove, only for those statistics to go begging for almost a year. It’s clearly more than a question of form.
Firstly, the qualities that made Traore great in the first place have gone nowhere. This is a player with pace unlike many players in Europe, let alone the Premier League. Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp called him ‘unplayable’ in an interview. He scored one of those few goals against Manchester City, in a performance where he terrorized some of the best defenders in the league, creating chances and completing dribbles all over the park. He’s still producing a lot of those less obvious positives like chance creation and successful dribbles. In fact, he’s created an average of 2 chances a game this season, compared to 1.7 last season.
He leads the league in successful dribbles, the fact is that when Traore has a ball and a defender is blocking him – literally no one else in the league is more likely to beat that man. It’s fair to admit Traore was never a prolific winger. At his peak, he scored four goals and assisted 9 in 37 games. Despite this season having scored or assisted any at all, it was somewhat naive to assume he’d suddenly become a 20-per-season winger – he’s never shown indications of that. It would be fair to say he’s having a less productive year, but clearly, Traore’s qualities simply don’t fall under goals and assists. He’s the man who has to apply baby oil to his biceps before games to make him harder to catch, and those figures suggest he still very much is.
The real answer might lie in an absence of players for Adama to actually pass to. Goals were never his strong suit, that’s clear, but assisting would surely make sense for a player who is almost always attacking and beats his man like nobody else.
The departure of Diogo Jota and the loss of Raul Jimenez to a severe head injury surely had an impact. Wolves lost two of their best finishers. Then add the transfer of Matt Doherty to Spurs, a full-back who supplied Traore with the passes he needed to advance. So Traore is essentially isolated. Nobody behind or in front of him who was there last season. Wolves are currently 4000/1 to win the League – safe to say, it’s probably not their year. However, they’re 66/1 in the latest betting odds to finish in the top six. This shouldn’t be discounted as a strong end to the season could certainly see them finish there, especially with how inconsistent everyone else has been.
It’s unlikely, but it’s not out of the question. European football would be a huge result for the squad and vindication of a side that wants to add silverware to their top-flight status. Adama needs to find players he can nurture the same connection he had with those who departed. It’s clear nobody is as good at dribbling, but Adama is a piece of a puzzle – Wolves can’t complete their jigsaw without a goalscorer who unlocks Traore’s potential.