In January 2011, BBC’s African Sport writer Matthew Kenyon wrote a piece on an up-and-coming 15-year-old Burkinabé youngster, who had firmly declared that he wanted to play for Chelsea’s first team. Kenyon concluded that his name “could be a very well-known name in the not too distant future.”
Around four and a half years later, Bertrand Traoré is on the brink of representing Chelsea’s first team and becoming the first ever Burkinabé to play in the Premier League. But, even at 19, this young man is no stranger to big occasions. Traoré represented his country at the Under-17 level while only 14, and then made his full international debut for his country just a year later, at 15. Those aren’t really the bragging rights your typical 15-year-old could lay claim to.
There is still a great sense of haziness about Traoré’s history with Chelsea. Some suggest that he’s been a player on the Blues’ books since 2010, while Chelsea claim he was only on trial for a while with the youth team. Either way, when Jose Mourinho returned in the summer of 2013 and surveyed the developments at the club since he left in 2007, he apparently stumbled onto a DVD of Traoré’s trial stint with the youth team and was left so impressed that he immediately called the youngster up to the senior squad for pre-season in Asia, where he duly excelled.
The last 18 months, spent on loan at Vitesse, have seen Traoré’s development reach new heights. In the second half of the 2013/14 Eredivisie season, the youngster started six times and was used in all three roles across the attacking line by Peter Bosz. Fellow Chelsea loanees made the news — Lucas Piazon for failing to replicate his own form in the first half of the season, and Christian Atsu for rising to the occasion leading Vitesse to a respectable finish. But in the background, was young Traoré, keeping his head low and getting acclimatised to first team football in Europe, working his way to becoming a real first-team player.
The verdict on his first six months as a Vitesse player was still that he was a very raw diamond and as expected, the Burkinabé returned to the Gelredome for the 2014/15 season as well, and with the departures of Piazon, Atsu and Havenaar, he seemed ready to establish himself in attack. It did not, however, all go to plan, as Traoré was just about average in the first half of the season. Peter Bosz — who is a bit like the Dutch Andre Villas-Boas — is a manager who prefers his team to dominate proceedings and retain a high level of possession in the opponents’ half and Traoré still lacked the intelligence in wide areas to flourish in this system. He ran straight into defenders and was not yet ready to beat players in tight spaces as Vitesse pushed their team up field and the opponents retreated.
The turning point for Traoré’s season came at Ajax, in the KNVB Beker. He started up front, as in the preceding game in the league against Groningen. It was a position he had already played four times the previous season, scoring three goals (three times the tally he had in 19 appearances out wide for Vitesse). Bosz showed some tactical flexibility by asking his team to sit back and absorb the Ajax pressure, then hitting them back on the counter. That system meant Christmas came a week early for Traoré, who scored a double and used his pace to absolutely pulverise Ajax’s Joel Veltman. Traoré had acres of room to run into and beat his opponents on the run as opposed to being force to operated in stagnant areas high up the pitch. He was lethal with his finishing as well, and that game kickstarted a goal-scoring spree which saw his tally climb up to 17 goals in all competitions by the end of the season, despite having only two goals to his name before December.
Peter Bosz said in June that “Jose Mourinho is crazy about him (Traoré) anyway and if the opportunity is there, they (Chelsea) prefer to take him back.” If Jose Mourinho is crazy about you, then you can’t be doing a great deal wrong. And indeed, Jose confirmed after the defeat to NY Red Bulls that he has no intention of letting ‘the kid’ go on loan.
To be fair, another loan would not be too bad for Traoré ,given his success came largely in a position he is unlikely to feature in for Chelsea, but staying at Stamford Bridge this season will be a crucial step in development for the 19-year-old. Mourinho is aware of his current shortcomings, remarking after a pre-season friendly that, “With the ball he has a lot of talent but sometimes doesn’t make the right decisions.” Nevertheless, the manager seems committed to helping Traoré adapt and improve. Learning at Vitesse with regular football would have been good too, but studying under Mourinho at Chelsea is a better bet towards turning Traoré into the star he can certainly become.
We Ain't Got No History's 2015/16 season preview was edited by Joe Tweeds and designed by Graham MacAree. If you've enjoyed the work of the authors who generously donated their time to this project, please share with your friends and consider supporting The Chelsea Foundation as a way of saying thank you.Credits