This article is part of Football League World’s ‘FLW Greats’ series, this content strand is where we look back on a player’s individual season and discuss how impressive they were…
A footballing prodigy can try something 100 times and only be remembered for the one time that he pulled it off.
I can’t think of a single player who this applies to more greatly than Adama Traore.
The winger is one of the most naturally-gifted athletes that you’re ever going to see in English football, but as all Middlesbrough fans know you need a lot more than that if you’re going to be remembered as a great of the game.
A product of Barcelona’s world-renowned, Traore always looked like a man who would make his name in the world of sport – after all, it’s said that he turned down the chance to become a 100m sprinter.
The rapid winger made his La Liga debut for Barcelona at the age of just 17, but his career at the Camp Nou didn’t quite take off in the way that many expected it to.
Traore moved to Aston Villa and had a season to forget as the Midlands side were relegated from the Premier League – a case of bad fortune that led him to Middlesbrough’s door.
However it was a case of Deja Vu for Traore who faced the drop once again in his first season in the North East.
No goals and just one assist in that season in the Premier League left many questioning the young Spaniard, but it was upon the club’s return to the Championship that Traore’s career would take off.
The winger was a bit-part player under Garry Monk, but his footballing career was dealt a huge lifeline when Tony Pulis took over and made Adama Traore his project.
Blessed with pace to burn and an ability to leave defenders in his wake, Traore’s issue was more to do with his final delivery and an ability to pick his head up and spot a pass when running at such a fast pace.
But under the watchful eye of Pulis, the Spaniard found a new lease of life as the focus was very much on his unrivalled attributes and what he could do to leave every defender in the Championship in his dust.
It was a frustrating watch for supporters, however, with Traore regularly running into trouble or mis-hitting his final pass meaning that all of his good build-up play went to waste.
But on the odd occasion Traore got it absolutely right and for a brief moment he looked like the world-beater that he was tipped to be.
Tony Pulis kept working with him and as the weeks went by the erratic ‘wildcard’ reputation that he possessed got less and less as he quickly became Middlesbrough’s go-to man when going forward as defenders simply didn’t know how to stop him when he reached fifth gear.
In the last 18 games of that season, Adama Traore scored five goals and created a further 12 for his Middlesbrough teammates as the Teessiders crept into the play-off places and to within just a few games of an immediate return to the Premier League.
The only issue was that the former Barcelona man was widely renowned as Middlesbrough’s only attacking outlet, meaning that if an opponent knew how to stop the speedster then they were likely to stop Tony Pulis’ side altogether.
As luck would have it Middlesbrough were drawn against Traore’s former club Aston Villa in the play-offs, and in a dour affair it was the Villains who came out on top with a one-goal lead after 180 minutes.
The Teessiders tried to feed Traore in the hope that he could pull a moment of magic out of the bag, but Villa knew exactly how to handle him as they placed three or even four defenders on the winger to stop him in his tracks.
It was a season of frustration for Middlesbrough, but one which will be widely remembered as the campaign which saw Adama Traore break through onto the football scene as the unstoppable talent that we know today.
Wolves took a punt on the winger that summer to bring him back to the Premier League, and as we’ve seen this term he’s now a player who is causing problems for the best defences in world football.
Middlesbrough won’t get a huge amount of credit for the work done by Tony Pulis in helping him fulfil his potential, but as those who monitored him close will profess it was the Welshman who played a massive role in helping this unstoppable force to find his feet.