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How Adama Traore has become Wolves’ passport to a golden future

When Adama Traore failed to bring his passport to Armenia, it seemed a cruelly ironic moment.
Here was someone who shows so much ability to get about on the pitch at speed, yet was left grounded while his team-mates were airborne after forgetting vital documents.
There have been times on the pitch when Traore has looked as lost as a piece of left luggage at an airport, others when he has left opponents as terrified as a vertigo sufferer about to board a plane.
Head coach Nuno Espirito Santo’s belief in the 23-year-old has never wavered. He made him his number one target in the summer of 2018 when Wolves pushed the boat out to secure a then club record signing by splashing out £18m to Middlesbrough.
Initially, Nuno was faced with a selection dilemma any manager would welcome. With Wolves playing 3-4-3 and Diogo Jota, Raul Jimenez and Helder Costa occupying the forward positions and Matt Doherty and Jonny Castro Otto playing so well at wing back, there was no pressure to start Traore.
He could be used as a wild card – rather than a joker, as some cynics may suggest – a threat from the bench when the opposition begins to tire.
His first Premier League start for Wolves came at the ninth time of asking on October 27 in the 1-0 defeat at bogey team Brighton. And, as Wolves had their one blip – six games without a win as winter drew in – Nuno was faced with bigger problems than where to find a place for the one-time Barcelona youngster.
In fact, a switch to 3-5-2 seemed to take Traore further away from the starting line-up; having two forwards rather than three surely reduced the chances of him being picked up front, while the solid form of Doherty and Jonny, allied to the added defensive responsibilities of their role would never see him selected as a wing back. Or so many thought.
A new season brought a new outlook however. OK, so Traore was tried out as a wing back in place of Doherty at times last season, memorably setting up the last-gasp equaliser at home to Newcastle as one notable highlight.
But Nuno’s faith and Traore’s willingness to learn has opened up possibilities for the former Boro flier.
While no footballer is faster than him, his quickness of thought still needs some work. At the moment, he hasn’t got the football brain to match Doherty.
You don’t score eight goals and claim eight assists in a season, especially at this level, by luck or a fluke.
Doherty knows when and where to make his runs in off the flank when the ball is on the left; something Traore is still trying to master.
But he is getting there. His crossing, which could be wayward, has become more consistent.
His positioning is also improving, while his powerful frame means he can be a formidable barrier for anyone looking to take him on.
Traore has been able to learn his new role ‘on the job’ to a certain extent; with Doherty out injured for the start of the Europa League campaign, Traore has been able to adapt to the position against limited opposition.
Now he is getting a chance to do it in the Premier League. Arguably no one player did more to turn the game Wolves’ way than Traore against Manchester United.
His half-time introduction for Doherty gave the team fresh impetus and a real outlet for a side that was being constantly pushed back towards its own goal.
In the first half, United had room down their left and were able to break through the surges of left back Luke Shaw. Once Traore came on, it was a different story. With Wolves giving Traore plenty of the ball, he was able to give Shaw a headache and force him back.
He is still not the finished article. But through Nuno’s belief and Traore’s work ethic, he can operate as a wing back.
And as pictures emerge of him on the place to Turin as Wolves prepare for their latest Europa League game, against Torino on Thursday night, he can also be an asset to them on the continent.