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Adama Traore & Barcelona: Why Wolves seeing what La Masia predicted

COMMENT: Slow down. Be patient. Wait. Maybe, just maybe, those coaches at La Masia were right with their advice to Adama Traore all those years ago...

Mistakes were made. No doubt. The team in charge of Barcelona's academy at the time could've done better. By his own admission, Adama would've been prepared to stay if the higher-ups had offered him a bit of clarity.

But what we're seeing now from Adama in a Wolves shirt is exactly what they were predicting at La Masia six years ago. And at 23, Adama's emergence as a player on the fringes of the elite falls just within the range of those expectations Barca's coaching staff had initially drawn up.

Adama is a success story. One of the best from the past year. But it could so easily have gone the other way. As Jurgen Klopp, the Liverpool manager, stated just before the New Year, Adama needed to find the right manager to give him the right message.

“He finally found his manager who found a position for him," declared Klopp, highlighting the impact Nuno has had on the young Spaniard. “At Middlesbrough he was exceptional, but somebody had to give him the right information.

“(He is) A big, big talent. You would never have thought he is that young, but he is still very young, and now he has found it (the right manager). It was always clear it would happen one day, and now it has. Good for Wolves!"

But it's been a slow burn. The consistency we're now seeing from Adama wasn't there last season. A year earlier, against Liverpool no less, Adama was hooked; "Better decisions, that's what we must work on with Adama," was Nuno's reasoning. Hours on the training pitch. Hours with his personal trainer. Being prepared to listen. To absorb. To accept. And the result is what we're seeing today.

As much as the physical change in Adama has been dramatic, you can be sure today's mental approach will also be a topic of discussion for Barca staff whom had seen the winger come through the club's system.

Born a stone's throw away from the Nou Camp, Adama was snapped up by Barca as an eight year-old. And by the time he was 16, he was blowing through the age categories. That year he jumped three levels before making his Barca B debut at 17 years of age. A debut that was played out in front of a watching Andre Villas-Boas, the then Tottenham manager. A few months later, still at 17, and Tata Martino was handing Adama his senior debut against Granada.

"It is not normal to debut such a young boy, it is not something that you do as matter of fact," said Martino at the time. "But we looked at him and decided. He has the qualities to be on the field. We saw him train these last weeks and we thought he had to be on the bench and give him the chance."

Barca knew they had something special on their hands. As did the rest of Spain. Quique Setien, the former Real Betis coach, was in awe of Adama. Then in charge of Lugo, Setien had seen up close what this 17 year-old was capable of when turning out for Barca B.

"Adama is a bullet, in the one for one he is unstoppable, he is very powerful and he is a little more mature," said Setien back in 2014. "Adama cannot be stopped even with a cannon shot!"

But clearly something did stop Adama. And it's no mystery. The coaching staff at La Masia wanted their young gem to learn his craft. Before Barca B. Before Tata and Granada. Adama had relied on his physical attributes. His individual quality. But this was Barca. Tiki-taka 'n all that. Adama would have to learn to play within the system if he was to make it with the Blaugrana.

A career plan was mapped out. Offers from Stoke City and Liverpool turned down. Barca saw Adama as a long-term prospect. A local capable of breaking into the tridente of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar... eventually.

Problem was, none of this was relayed to Adama. Instead, he found himself flitting between the first and B teams with little explanation.

Recalling his decision to quit for Aston Villa, he recalled: "I left with a bittersweet feeling. In my last season, because of what I had played, because of my debut, because of the little I had shown, I asked for that opportunity. I didn't demand anything because I knew had to earn that day by day, in training.

"No one talked to me. I would have liked someone to have given me an explanation, that at least my motives were being considered."

Management dropped the ball. Yes, they did have the MSN - and the spending power to buy from outside where needed. But something slipped the net regarding Adama's departure. The club even failing to write in a buy-back clause for his sale to Villa.

"From now on, with time, we will see if it was the right decision," Adama responded. "But I'm not upset, Barça is much more than those who made that determination. After all it is my home and they gave me everything. I will always be grateful for everything I learned and they taught me."

Indeed, the son of a house cleaner and car factory worker, Barca did lose something more than just a potential world-beater when selling Adama back in 2015.

"From the age of eight until I debuted in the first team I will remember all the coaches and all the people who make up the club but don't get the recognition: chefs, teachers, security. People that make you feel comfortable and make your life easier. For all of them Barça is more than a club."

Could it have all worked out if he'd waited? Been patient? Perhaps. But as Klopp says, for all the potential, Adama still needed to find a manager prepared to stick with him. And maybe, he also needed to go through the wringer he experienced with Villa and Middlesbrough to appreciate the guidance Nuno has offered him.

The talent. The physical gifts. They were always there. Adama just needed to pull back and listen - as he has now done with Wolves. Maybe, just maybe, those staff at La Masia were right all along...


Chris Beattie
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Chris Beattie

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