On Sunday supporters of Tottenham Hotspur witnessed once again the brilliance and the frustration of Adama Traoré. It seems that every time Spurs line up against Wolves, a side that has caused them a lot of frustration over the years, the talent and ability of Traoré is at the forefront. Thankfully, outside of a wicked screamer in the December 2019 match at Molineux, Spurs fans have been fortunate thatTraoré’s end product has lacked the same prowess as his dribbling, pace and take-on ability.
With just a week and change until the end of the transfer deadline, Spurs have the potential for so many new incomings and outgoings. Not only are the futures of stars, or at least as the club pay them to be, like Harry Kane and Tanguy Ndombele up in the air, but Spurs have question marks all across the squad. One area that is not a question mark, however, comes at the winger position. Spurs seem to be set for attacking wingers, despite the straight 1-for-1 swap of Erik Lamela for Bryan Gil.
Despite this, reports have circulated that Spurs are keen on adding Traoré before the close of the window. And given the options they have at the position and the fee that they would need to bid to persuade Wolves to depart with him, it begs the question of ‘why?’
For me, the answer is simple and it is that there may not be a more unique attacking player in the league for how we have seen Nuno Espírito Santo approach the game. And to make it even more sensible, this is a player that has already bloomed under Nuno. But perhaps Traoré could even take a further step. Let’s take a bit more of a deep dive into this.
A Barcelona academy product up until the age of 19, Traoré made the transition to English football in 2015 when he came over to Aston Villa. At the time, Traoré’s value was worth around the €10 million range. Despite such a stacked Barcelona side at the time, the Catalonian club felt strongly about Traoré’s potential and put a three-year buy-back clause in his contract. After a season riddled with injury at Villa, Traoré moved to Middlesbrough where he really started to shine. Due to his performances there, he was purchased by a then newly-promoted Wolves ahead of the 2018-19 season.
In three years at Wolves, Traoré has been a consistent starter alongside the likes of various skillful attacking outlets such as Diogo Jota, Raúl Jiménez and, most recently, Pedro Neto. Traoré’s best season at Wolves came in 2019-20, where he helped the team reach their second consecutive seventh-place finish chipping in with four goals and nine assists. Not the most flashy goal contribution numbers by any means, but taking an extended look outside of the box score, there is reason to see why Traoré is just about as dangerous as they come in terms of attackers throughout all of Europe.
On Sunday, Spurs fans once again saw his unique blend of sheer power, dashing speed and robust strength. And with the rumors circulating of Traoré potentially coming to Spurs, I want to declare that I am all for it.
While the reported fee of £40 million is a bit high, it comes as no surprise that Spurs prefer to bring the Spanish international in on loan with an obligation to buy clause. Let’s take a look at Traoré’s numbers in his first three years at Wolves.
Traoré’s Goal Contributions (2018-2021)
Obviously, there are surely concerns about Traoré. The goal contribution numbers are not only discouraging, but even if you do add the multi-dimensional player, Spurs may have to shift their tactics to get the most out of the player, including using him as an outlet for ball progression. We saw on Sunday, despite Bruno Lage coming in to play more of an attacking-minded style in comparison to his predecessor Nuno, that Wolves seem keen on force-feeding the ball to Traoré, looking to generate their attack through him.
But despite the decline in goal contributions, there is definitely more that meets the eye. Let’s take a look at the 2019-20 side versus the 2020-21 side. For the 2019-20 side, that Wolves team finished in seventh place and scored 51 goals in the process. The 2020-21 Wolves side finished in 13th place and scored just 36 goals.
As a whole, Wolves fell off and the decline ultimately led to the club and Nuno mutually deciding to go their separate ways. However, it should be worth mentioning that Wolves’ fall from the top seven in English football can ultimately be correlated to the club failing to replace Jota going to Liverpool and the club lacking an out-and-out number nine presence once Jiménez went down with injury in November. In a sliding doors moment, Wolves went from a stingy side to a dull and barren outfit where their midfield was overrun and a player like Traoré could not take hold of being the primary player in the attack. This is not a knock on the player by any means, but it should be considered as we discuss the prospect of whether to bring the player to the club or not.
Should Spurs add Traoré to the fold, there would be many positives. Given Nuno’s tendencies so far in the season, judging by his tactics and first-team choices, the lack of creativity in midfield is quite concerning and perhaps that is in relation to the club’s choices in the positional group at this current time.
At the moment, Nuno’s clear indication to get the most out of this current group is a 4-3-3 where Dele Alli, coming from the left-sided midfield 3 can get forward, leaving the duo of Oliver Skipp and Pierre-Emile Højbjerg to withstand the dirty work in the middle of the park. And while this duo has that work rate and defensive prowess that Nuno obviously likes, the combination has yet shown a consistent ability to transition the ball from defense to attack.
Instead, Spurs seem overly-focused on generating their attack from the flanks, mainly through Lucas Moura and Steven Bergwijn. On top of this, Spurs have shown in two games, and even if you look back at Nuno’s sides at Wolves, that they value the ability to push the ball forward and try to hit on the counter. So far in Nuno’s tenure, the emphasis has been on defending decently deep and extremely narrow whilst looking to push the ball outward to speed players (Lucas and Bergwijn) in space to make things happen.
Now, with all of this in mind, imagine injecting a player like Traoré into the fold. We spoke earlier about the decline of goals from Traoré and Wolves as a whole once Jiménez went down with injury last season. By adding the player, Traoré can pair with two of the deadliest finishers in all of the world in Son Heung-min and Kane. And in the process, Spurs can add more creativity into the squad, albeit not in the midfield like most hope, but instead on the outside. Given how narrow Spurs have played so far, the feeling is that the creativity brought over from Traoré could even free up space for attackers across the field.
Traoré has never been known for his finishing ability, but rather than that being the main knock on why Spurs should look elsewhere for other alternatives, his ability to attract and invite defenders and create huge pockets of space for Spurs’ attackers to take advantage of should be what is discussed of the player.
The reality is that Spurs are not going to be able to bring in a perfect player. They do not have the financial flexibility and the attractiveness of playing in Champions League football to bring over World Class players like Manchester United can with Raphaël Varane or Manchester City can with Jack Grealish. Where Spurs should invest in is adding pieces to the squad that make them more multi-dimensional, and emphasizing Traoré’s strengths in an effort to get the best out of him would be a step in that direction. For that reason, this potential signing makes all of the sense in the world to me.
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