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Keep, Sell, Loan: Bertrand Traoré’s 2016-17 season in review

Ajax v Manchester United - UEFA Europa League Final Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

Appearances (starts + substitute):
Dutch Eredivisie - 22 + 2 (1796 minutes)
UEFA Champions League Qualifiers - 2 (172 minutes)
UEFA Europa League - 13 (1106 minutes)

Goals + Assists:
Dutch Eredivisie - 9 + 2
UEFA Europa League - 4+ 4

After his relatively increased first-team role under Guus Hiddink at the end of the 2015/16 season, it was widely expected that Bertrand Traoré would be retained this season as well, and hence successfully making the transition from loanee to first-team member. Traoré lasted the whole of pre-season, playing regularly and bagging a couple of goals along the way but somewhat unexpectedly left on loan mid-way through August; Conte couldn’t promise Traoré regular minutes, especially given an impending shift from a two-striker system and hence the young striker’s loan move followed.

It was understandably hard on Traoré to have played so regularly in pre-season only to leave on loan back to the Eredivisie again. Perhaps he wasn’t in the right place mentally straight away, resulting in some lukewarm performances at best. An advantage of the Ajax move, however, was that Traoré was under the care of Peter Bosz, a manager who knew and trusted him well from their time together at Vitesse. A few indifferent starts at his preferred center-forward position, and Ajax academy talent Kasper Dolberg’s simultaneous rise to prominence, would have led most managers just to drop him. Instead, Bosz moved Traoré to the wing to keep him involved.

AFC Ajax v R. Standard de Liege - UEFA Europa League Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

Traoré remained very much part of the regular Ajax starting XI and one of the first names on the team sheet. He was not only a key part of Ajax’s run to the finals of the Europa League, but also Burkina Faso’s third-place finish at the African Cup of Nations. Playing time clearly hasn’t been an issue for Traoré this season, but being played out of position, exaggerated criticism by fans and a slight lack of consistency make his season appear bang average, at face value.

This season, Traoré averaged a goal every 236 minutes (or around 2.5 games), collecting either an assists or a goal every 161 minutes. A constant threat to the opposition defence, he needs to be more clinical in dispatching his chances. He ranked 3rd in terms of total shots per game (3.5) and only PSV’s Luuk de Jong had more attempts inside the penalty area (2.2). 43% of Traoré’s shots found the target, while he had the third highest average shots on target per game (1.5, the highest being 1.6).

Traoré averaged a goal every 9.5 shots or so, although it should be noted that 32% of his attempts came from outside the box. More precise shot/chance quality data would paint a clearer picture, but for all of the attempts Traoré had on goal, his goal haul could certainly be larger.

Only his teammate Amin Younes averaged more successful dribbles per game (3.4) than him (3). Traoré also averaged one key pass per game in the Eredivisie, and two in the Europa League. Dribbling is indeed one of Traoré’s foremost strengths; many times he looked a notch above the rest of the players on the pitch with his footwork and close control, but what he should be focused on next is the resulting end product. Traoré can be very great and very frustrating in equal measure, which had provoked Ajax fans into voicing their dissatisfaction with him a few times.

Conclusion and Verdict: Traoré has had a season full of ups and downs, and his numbers reflect that. When on song, he’s looked too good for the Eredivisie itself but there were times when he was utterly dire as well. His aerial ability and work rate seem to be improving, but he is a player who primarily needs the ball at his feet.

I feel there’s much more than meets the eye about Traoré’s season, and that it’s time for Antonio Conte to seriously consider him as an option for the inside-forward position, which would suit him greatly. He would also be a good option in a two-striker system, should Conte wish to use that at times next season. Peter Bosz is rigid in his style of play, and Ajax essentially played the same kind of game Vitesse did when Traoré was there. Traoré has spent half a season under Mourinho, half a season under Hiddink and the work Conte has done with Victor Moses (surely this isn’t a cliche just yet) leads me to believe there’s a lot of scope for Traoré to improve while working under Conte. He can be used immediately as an impact substitute to good effect, and be groomed for a more regular role. Hence, my verdict is to keep.

Traoré believes in himself and in every interview I’ve watched of his this season, he has been clear in stating that he thinks he’s had a great season, and that he’s been performing well throughout. Traoré has also stated that he’d like closure at the end of this season, meaning he’ll most likely either leave on a permanent deal or stay at Chelsea. Lyon’s interest seems most prominent as of now, and their valuation of Traoré seems to be at around £20 million. If Chelsea do sell, one can only hope they insert a buy-back clause in the deal, as this is exactly the type of situation buy-back clauses are meant for.


What would you do with Bertrand Traoré next season?

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