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Adama Traore’s dribbling ability is unique in the Premier League
Wolves winger has made a big impact since £18m summer transfer
Last Updated: 13/09/18 5:31pm
The Premier League is packed with talent but Adama Traore's gifts remain truly unique – and the dribbling stats prove it. Adam Bate looks at why the Wolves winger is already beginning to justify the £18m club record fee paid to prise him away from Middlesbrough.
Unique. It is an overused word in football. This is a game that is full of physical centre-halves and energetic full-backs. For all the quality that's out there, creative midfielders and strikers with a gift for scoring goals are plentiful in the Premier League. But it is statistically accurate to state that there is nobody in football who is quite like Adama Traore.
The man who completed almost twice as many dribbles as anyone in the Championship last season is up to the same tricks again since becoming Wolves' record signing last month. On debut at Leicester, he completed more dribbles than anyone else. At West Ham last time out, he did it again. Quite the feat given that he was a second-half substitute in both games.
At present, Traore averages more than twice as many completed dribbles as the next man on the list, Eden Hazard. The sample size is small, of course. Traore has only played 91 minutes in total so far. But while no player in the Premier League has completed more than 11 dribbles in a game either this season or last, Traore currently averages more than that.
There is a visceral pleasure to watching him run that is enough to add another layer of absurdity to the fuss about seeing Usain Bolt on a football pitch. Premier League fans need not stay up into the early hours to witness such a circus show when Traore is running so much quicker than opponents that they cannot even get close enough to trip him.
West Ham's Aaron Cresswell was the victim of circumstance made to look foolish as Traore raced clear to score the stoppage-time winner against West Ham. "Scary" was the verdict of Wolves wing-back Matt Doherty. "He's quick isn't he?" added skipper Conor Coady. It was delivered with the nervous laugh of a schoolboy caught cheating. That is how it must feel.
Traore's spectacular cameo at the London Stadium was the 40th top-flight appearance of a career that has already taken in spells at Barcelona, Aston Villa and Middlesbrough. It was his first goal in any of those games - a reminder that for all the dumbstruck defenders left in his wake, there have been all too many blind alleys; too much advice falling on deaf ears.
End product has always been the issue and some of the old habits remain. On his debut at the King Power Stadium, when unstinting enthusiasm could surely be expected, Traore did indeed make more high-intensity sprints than anyone else in the second half. But his average speed was closer to that of goalkeeper Rui Patricio than the man he'd replaced.
This speed machine is either in top gear or neutral. He had barely made it onto the pitch at the London Stadium before Wolves coach Nuno Espirito Santo was berating him for failing to make a run into the box to get on the end of a cross from the other flank. He is a player who wants the ball at his feet but doesn't always appear to do enough to make that happen.
Speaking to his old Aston Villa manager Tim Sherwood earlier this year, the man who gave him his Premier League debut back in 2015, his mixed feelings about Traore were probably best summed in one sentence. "The players didn't want to play with him," Sherwood told Sky Sports, "but nobody wanted to play against him either."
Traore never did start a league game for Villa. He was just not trusted. "He wants the ball to himself but he dribbles in the wrong areas at times," added Sherwood. "He's got to learn because he was turning the ball over where it was easier to pass it. You never knew what you were going to get from him. He was full of power and pace but lacked end product."
Even so, the idea that a 22-year-old winger of such rare talent can have his reputation set in stone would seem every bit as ill-judged as some of Traore's worst decision-making. He was only a teenager when he so infuriated his Aston Villa boss and team-mates alike. Perhaps the notion that he cannot be relied upon should not be allowed to stick just yet.
There are signs that Traore's dribbling decisions are improving. While the numbers remain outrageously high, his success rate is increasing year on year. He completed only 61 per cent of his dribbles in that first season with Villa. The following year with Middlesbrough it was 76 per cent. Last year it was 80 per cent and so far at Wolves it's up at 86 per cent.
As for the accusations of a lack of end product, that is starting to develop too. All six of his career league goals have come since the turn of the year. So far this season he has created five chances in his 91 Premier League minutes for Wolves at a rate that puts him top of the pile, just above David Silva, among players who have played that many minutes or more.
Even Sherwood, among the harsh words, has suggested that Traore has the talent to play for Manchester City let alone Wolves. "He could play for City tomorrow," he said. "He could be a Pep Guardiola player and play free and loose. He could probably set the world alight. He has got those qualities. He is eye-catching and he gets people on the edge of their seats."
Those headline-grabbing sentiments were dismissed by some as hyperbole when the quotes first emerged, but it is safe to assume that Pep Guardiola would have preferred the La Masia graduate on his side when he was busy burning Benjamin Mendy away at Molineux. Traore's impact played its part in earning Wolves a 1-1 draw against the champions.
City's squad boasts just about every quality that's worth having in football. But even they do not possess a player like Traore - because there is no player like Traore. It is a problem that every Wolves opponent must face this season, starting with Sean Dyche's Burnley when they travel down the M6 in search of a first Premier League win of the season on Sunday.
With their European adventure having come to an end, they will be refocused and well prepared. It would be no great shock if they exploit Wolves' weakness from set-pieces just as Everton and City did before them. But at some point in the afternoon, they will face a problem for which there is no preparation. The unique threat of Adama Traore in full flow.
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