Let’s be clear about my views on Adama Traore rejoining FC Barcelona: Not a fan. He wasn’t good enough the first time, nor is my confidence that he will be good enough this time in anything like fine fettle.
I also think that the player that he is replacing, one Ousmane Dembele, is exponentially more talented than Traore.
With all that said, the Traore loan is an interesting one for more than the fiscal numbers. The irritating thing about the “pace and power” thing that dogs depictions of Black footballers is that it’s usually inaccurately applied. But with Traore, damn, y’all. He’s a blur who can also muscle past even the most vigorous challenge.
There is an excellent line from a Traore piece that sings like a canary. You really should read it:
If Traore took on almost half a team in five seconds and then scored at the end of it, he’d have never been playing for Wolves in the first place, certainly not for the best part of four years.
He comes to Barça on loan from Wolves. Wolves. He didn’t want to renew his contract there, and depending upon who you believe, Spurs either didn’t come calling or he rejected Spurs. Barça is paying him a comparative pittance, as well. There are bargains, then there’s too good to be true. We have absolutely no idea where Traore is, and that’s the baffling thing.
We see a lot of talk about his muscles, and here’s a story:
Ages ago, when I was young and fast, squatting heavy stuff and benching heavy stuff, my wife and I went to buy a weight bench. We picked the one we wanted, and it came unassembled, flat-packed for easy transport. The fellow — about half my size, looking more like a footballer than bodybuilder — at the fitness shop rolled it out on a hand truck, and slid it into the back of our van.
Upon arriving home, I grabbed at the sides of the box to lift it out of the van as effortlessly as the puny man did. Some forty minutes and a wrestling match later, I got that box up to our third-floor walkup. The lesson is that there is muscle, and then there is strength.
Messi, on the ball, is like Gibraltar. Iniesta, the size of one of Traore’s biceps, was impossible to push off the ball. Xavi played on the ball like his cleats were part of the earth, a seismic event requiring getting him off the ball. “Did you just feel the earth move?” Muscles are impressive, but strength is another matter altogether. We know Traore has muscles. We have no idea whether he is strong.
Traore was hard done by the folks in charge of B. His one thing was so impressive, so useful that they never developed him. “Just keep doing that, son. You’re fine.” He moved to the first team with that one thing, and more was required. So off he went. In the hands of Nuno at Wolves, he developed some. He ain’t never gonna have pausa, but his one thing developed nuance, like a carpenter with a hammer learning that not every nail needs a full-force thwack.
So it’s cool that he’s getting a second chance, via a pile of half-baked, childish idiocy, to prove himself at the club at which he grew.
It’s also cool that his one thing might be exactly what his new club needs right now.
Against Athletic Club, then again vs Elche, Dembele was at home, watching the match on TV. Opponents pushed up, understanding that the one player the team had who could do them for pace, then have the creativity to make something happen, wasn’t being allowed to join in ANY reindeer games. So they took advantage. Duh. Dembele and his agent likely watched, thinking, “I wonder if they’re seeing what we’re seeing?”
Well, yeah. Hence Traore. His one thing is a potent beast: the ability to run like the wind, dribble, change direction and flummox defenders. What he does after that makes it clear why he’s coming on loan from Wolves, instead of being an unaffordable winger spoken of in tones of hushed reverence.
That phrase is one of those things, like “positioning,” that is used malleably. Goals? Assists? What exactly the hell does “end product” even mean? Well, maybe in Traore’s case his end product is OHMYGODTHEREHEGOES. Maybe his best attribute is that he creates conditions in which others can thrive.
Barça is an incomplete team. It has players who can score if you get them the ball, players who can take advantage of space and score if you get them the ball, players who can move and create space to score, if you get them the ball. What they lack is someone who can get them the ball.
It was no coincidence that Xaviball took off when Dembele returned. He was someone who could “get them the ball.” But he was also another of those AAAAHHHHSTOPHIM players where you caught your breath every time he got on the ball. Just when that was about to really get going, the club decided to flex like an adolescent, and that was that.
Alemany made a shrewd move in that the team doesn’t need Traore to do anything except what he does. He isn’t a replacement for Dembele, talent wise. But he can do that one thing that he does, and can make the team more effective — vastly more so — in doing what he does. His end product is the one thing that he does. That’s it. Expecting Adama Traore to also score goals is absurd in many ways. He’s never done it in a reliable fashion. If he did, he’d be Messi. He’s a guy who runs toward the end line, sows chaos then does something. It’s up to the others, who have been needing chaos, to capitalize.
So welcome, Adama Traore. Your one thing might be just what the doctor ordered, once the other guys get a clue. Pro tip: You might want to slow down a bit for them, though, so they can catch up.