There are of course plenty of storylines attached to the second biggest European final this season — Mourinho putting all his grade A (B? C?) eggs in one basket, Daley Blind and Justin Kluivert playing in a European final just as their fathers did for Ajax, etc. — but as far as we are concerned, the big story is young Chelsea loanee Bertrand Traoré facing the man who gave him his Chelsea debut, José Mourinho, who has bet his entire season (and possibly his club’s ability to sign their transfer targets this summer) on this one match.
Date / Time: Wednesday, May 24, 2017, 19:45 BST; 2:45pm EDT; 12:15am IST (next day)
Venue: Friends Arena, Stockholm, Sweden
Referee: Damir Skomina — the name might be familiar from the 2012 UEFA Super Cup final, where Chelsea were absolutely destroyed by Falcao and Atlético Madrid (who also had Courtois in goal and Costa on the bench).
On TV: BT Sport 2 (UK); Fox Sports 1, ESPN Deportes (USA); TEN 1 HD, TEN 2, Sony Six HD/SD (India); elsewhere
Streaming online: BT Sport Live (UK); Fox Soccer 2Go (USA)
Dear Europe... #WeAreBack#UELfinal #ajaman pic.twitter.com/suQmaQRNcE— AFC Ajax (@AFCAjax) May 24, 2017
After making 16 appearances and scoring 4 goals for Chelsea last season under Mourinho and Hiddink, it looked like Bertrand Traoré’s long and convoluted journey was at last complete, from first arriving on trial at age 14, then again at 17, to finally signing at age 18 (Chelsea just about staying on the good side of FIFA rules), and then gaining his work permit two seasons later. Traoré had impressed on loan at Vitesse in 2014-15 and while there were some concerns about Chelsea’s lack of investment that following summer, it did provide long overdue opportunities to the most impressive youngsters in the academy and loan system.
Unfortunately, Antonio Conte did not share completely in this enthusiasm a year later. Despite being regularly involved in preseason matches, Traoré was farmed out yet again. It felt like a step backwards and the 21-year-old later spoke about his own confusion and disillusionment with the move as well. But if his recent comments are any indication, he seems to have gotten over that, at least to a certain extent.
“At Chelsea I knew it would be difficult to play every game. Coming here was the best option.”
“Chelsea is my club, and I always dreamed of playing for this club. I want to win the cup [Europa League], and return. But I don’t make the final decision. We will see what happens. When the season is finished I’ll go back to Chelsea, and for sure we will have a chat.”
“I was very proud that Chelsea were champions. I texted a few of the players to congratulate them. Now, it is time for myself also. When we got through against Lyon, I got a text from [Eden] Hazard saying good luck for the final.”
Incidentally, Lyon have recently emerged as a potential destination for Traoré should Chelsea not work out for him this summer, but whether that would entail a permanent move or a loan or something a bit more complex remains to be seen. Traoré just signed a four-year contract last summer, and he is still just 21, so there’s no rush.
Finding success at Ajax after a bit of a rocky start no doubt has helped improve the mood. Winning the Europa League, especially over the manager who had been such an important figure in the young player’s career, would no doubt improve it even further.
“I owe [Mourinho] a lot. People would say that when he was there, I didn’t play a lot, and I understand that. But when you are at a club like Chelsea, and results are not going well, it is hard to change the team and put young players in. I wish he could have stayed. But this is football.”
“He was the one who took me to pre-season at 17 for a trial, and gave me the opportunity to score goals. Then he decided to give me a professional contract and send me on loan to Vitesse. I had a great one-and-a-half years at Vitesse, and he called me back to the first-team squad and I got opportunities. For sure, I’ll be happy to meet him in Stockholm.”
“For sure, I’ll give him a hug. I’m excited to see him. But I also have to score against him.”
-Bertrand Traoré; source: Telegraph
Traoré hat-trick incoming.