Thursday 19 September 2019

'I'm fast - but people don't know that I'm holding back'

Wolves speedster has begun to fulfil potential first seen alongside Messi, says John Percy

Wolves manager Nuno Espirito Santo speaks with Adama Traore. Photo: Getty
Wolves manager Nuno Espirito Santo speaks with Adama Traore. Photo: Getty

John Percy

It does not take long watching Adama Traore to understand why he earned the nickname "Usain Bolt" during his formative years in Barcelona's La Masia academy.

This is, after all, a player so fast that Olympic sprinting champion Darren Campbell - a consultant during Traore's spell at Middlesbrough - once advised him to slow down, and who is now regularly clocked at 22mph at Wolves. Bolt's record was 27.8mph, but he never did so while dribbling a football and trying to evade the lunging tackles of back-pedalling defenders.

Traore's heat maps are probably radioactive, so Liverpool have been duly warned as they arrive at Molineux for tonight's Premier League encounter, desperate to extend their unbeaten start to the season.

"I've always been quick, ever since I was little," Traore says, having just scorched the earth at Wolves' Compton training ground. "People are thinking I am running so fast on the pitch, but I think it's slow. I am deliberately holding back and I could be even quicker.

"At Middlesbrough, Darren told me that I didn't need to run at 100 per cent as I didn't realise how fast I was. I can beat players at 70 per cent and this will then give me time to think about what to do next.

"I want to get people on the edge of their seats, get past players, try to show my skills and pace."

Traore's performances at Middlesbrough last season were so effective that after his sale, comedian and lifelong supporter Bob Mortimer tweeted: "Such a sad day. Extraordinary talent the likes of which I have never seen in 50 years. Wolves fans you are lucky, lucky b******s."

The 22-year-old has already made a huge impact under Nuno Espirito Santo since his arrival in August for a club record £18 million, establishing his reputation as a thrilling wild card option on the bench to attack tiring full-backs.


Eleven of his 16 appearances have been as a substitute, and many of his cameos late in games have been destructive, yet he has told Wolves fans there is far more to come.

"I can definitely show more. I like to improve myself every day and whatever my performance, I will always believe I can do better," Traore says.

"I need to work on my final ball at the end of the pitch, the last pass, to be the best I can be. It's different to Middlesbrough because there it was more counter-attacking, here we are on the front foot.

"Whether it's 90 minutes, or a half, 10 minutes or whatever, I want to show what I can do. I'm so happy to be back in the Premier League, but I can do better."

Traore will turn 23 next month but admits it feels like he has been around far longer. He first emerged with Barcelona's 'B' team, earning predictable comparisons with Lionel Messi, before making his debut at the age of 17, coming on for Neymar in a 4-0 win over Granada. Those days at the Catalonia factory of football were crucial, he says, along with the close support of mother, Fatoumata, and his father, Baba.

"Barcelona is the best education possible. Training with Messi is something I will never forget - he was always the last off the pitch and working incredibly hard in the gym.

"If he is the best player in the world and works so hard, who are we? You can have all the crazy talent but you need to work.

"The most important thing for me was talking to players like Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Javier Mascherano - they would tell me about the life away from football. All I wanted to do was play but they explained how important everything is away, how you prepare and live your life."

It was three years ago when Traore's experience of English football began. In August 2015, he made a surprise £7 million move to Aston Villa, then in the Premier League, and the expectation surrounding his arrival was huge, despite making just four appearances for Barcelona's first team.

But Villa's season ended in relegation to the Championship.

"It was a difficult time for me, coming there with a big reputation. We had four managers in one year and a lot of problems. I also had injuries, which did not help me," Traore says.

"I was younger there and it was a totally different routine. For example, we used to eat at 10pm in Spain but here it was around 7pm. It was a new culture and at Barcelona everything is given to you. Villa are a big club, too, but the tough times make you stronger."

The move to Middlesbrough, and learning under first Aitor Karanka and then Tony Pulis, provided Traore with a lift. He was a key player in the second season under Pulis, scoring five goals and providing 10 assists and sweeping the board at the player of the year awards as Boro reached the play-offs.

Traore is now a favourite at Molineux and loving life under Nuno, with Wolves facing Liverpool on the back of their best top-flight run since 1980. Wolves are also only one point behind Manchester United.

Manchester City's Vincent Kompany has claimed Wolves are "geared for big scalps" and will "take points off our competitors", so how does Traore view the visit of the league leaders?

"We have been amazing against the big teams: we've beaten Chelsea and drawn with United, City and Arsenal. We approach them all with the same mentality, to win, and we will be doing it again on Friday.

"Liverpool are an amazing team but they have to lose eventually - it could be us who beats them, who knows what could happen?"

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