We at Cartilage Free Captain do transfer rumors often, and we do them well. But sometimes it’s worth doing a deeper dive into Tottenham Hotspur’s transfer targets, what we call Daniel Levy’s Imaginary Shortlist. These are players that Spurs have either been linked to in the transfer window, or sometimes who they should be linked to as the club tries to improve to challenge for a Premier League title.
Today, we are taking a look at Middlesbrough winger Adama Traore.
Name: Adama Traoré
League: EFL Championship
Primary position: Right wing
Other positions: Can play across the forward attacking band.
Adama Traore is an extremely fast, tricky, dribbly wide forward who has broken free of the shackles that have bound him and put in some truly eye-popping statistics in the Championship this season. But what he’s really known for is his propensity for taking people on the dribble... and succeeding more often than not. It’s pretty spectacular.
Few players have exploded onto the consciousnesses of the football stat-erati the way Adama has this season. A graduate of La Masia, he never made it past Barcelona B and was sold to Aston Villa in 2015 for about £4.5m. He was... unimpressive, to say the least. Villa shipped him off to Boro a year later. In 2016-17 he had zero goals and one assist in 1800 minutes.
So why are talking about this guy again? Because he took the leap and then some this season, scoring 5 goals and tallying 12 assists this season, and helping Boro get to the playoffs. He was named Middlesbrough’s Player of the Season last week.
But even that’s not what has turned him into the darling of football stat-counters and a favorite in the Cartilage Free Captain writer’s Slack.
It’s because he does stuff like this.
Adama loves to dribble players. And I mean he LOVES TO DRIBBLE PLAYERS. He has the speed to get by opponents, the ball skills to bypass them with trickery, and the raw strength to just bully people off the ball. This season for Middlesbrough, he has put up some absolutely astounding numbers with the ball at his feet.
Keep in mind that these numbers, which are from WhoScored, are PER 90 MINUTES. Average that out and it comes to an attempted dribble every 7 minutes, and most of them are successful. In a recent 2-0 win over Millwall he attempted 16 dribbles, and was successful in 12 of them. In the two playoff matches against Villa, he successfully dribbled an opponent in 18 out of 22 attempts. His forward running numbers are ridiculous. He’s also pretty good at pressing opponents, which likely makes Mauricio Pochettino’s eyes go ka-ching.
I tried to find advanced statistics for him or a recent stats radar and was unsuccessful, but he’s the kind of player to whom you give the ball and tell him to “make something happen,” and he invariably does. He’s been called “frightening and brilliant” by opponents.
His La Masia coach, Andres Carrasco, recalls him well. “He’s the fastest player I have ever coached,” he told Sky Sports. “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 every player.”
That all sounds pretty good, so what’s the catch?
Well, how to put it delicately — there’s evidence to suggest that Adama might not be the brightest bulb in the footballing chandelier. As good as he’s been at taking on players, and he’s been really, REALLY good, he hasn’t always shown the best ability at either creating his own shot or finding teammates. 12 assists is pretty good, but considering he’s averaging 9 successful dribbles per game you would expect his finishing and passing numbers in the opposition third to be better than what they are.
His decision making has also bee questioned. Former Boro boss Aitor Karanka called Adama a “challenge” to coach, and Carrasco shared an anecdote from his Barcelona days about him “forgetting everything. Always, always, always. He would forget his passport, he would forget everything!”
Championship opponents nullified Adama’s trickery and pace by either double-teaming him or playing deep and trying to deny him room to maneuver, which he needs in order to exploit other players. Easier said than done, certainly, but you can imagine him getting frustrated playing for Spurs going up against a bunkered defense, which he likely will a lot. So there’s some evidence that he could struggle a bit in the Premier League. He’s also not the kind of player who likes to track back and play defense, even if he is pretty good in the midfield press.
However, at Spurs he’d be working with a manager in Mauricio Pochettino who has a proven history of reforming flaky players and turning them into successes at the top level. And if Poch thinks that he can permanently superglue his brain into place during matches, he would be a pretty exciting and intriguing addition to Tottenham. He’s also young enough that he could still have a lot of his bad habits trained out of him. Imagine a stockier Lucas Moura with his pace and dribbling stats turned up to 11 but mind-melded with Serge Aurier. That’s basically Adama Traore.
The Northern Echo says that Spurs and Chelsea are keeping tabs on Adama, who could command a fee of up to £30m. That’s perhaps a pretty steep fee for a player with such caveats, but watch those clips above and just hold in your mind a second the idea of throwing Adama Traore in as an impact substitute in the 70th minute against a tired defense.
Yeah, that’s why we’re excited too.
Likely price: £20-30m
Chances that the valuation is wrong: Likely, but we don’t really know. He’s coming off of a hell of a season, but it’s only one season and it’s not clear if he’ll be able to replicate it, especially in the Premier League. However, it’s likely SOMEONE’S going to buy him, and Boro will want as much money as they can for him.
Team’s willingness to sell: Boro got knocked out of the Championship playoffs by Aston Villa, and Traore looks like a valuable asset. If they get a good offer for him, my guess is they’ll sell and reinvest in their squad to make a push for promotion next season.
Fit at Tottenham Hotspur: Is he a starter? It’s too soon to say. Is he someone that we’d be positively giddy about throwing into a match late? Abso-friggin’-lutely.
Possibility he ends up at Spurs: Who knows? The links are specious, and this article is as much wish-casting as it is based on actual rumors. But consider us Adama Traore-curious.
Grade if this transfer goes through: How can you possibly grade all that fun? Let’s give him a grade of Infinity Plus Heart-Eyes Emoji.