Bertrand Traore, Midfielder
Height: 5’ 11”
Weight: 159 lbs
Age: 17 (9/6/1995)
Place of birth: Bobo-Dioulasso, Burkina Faso
National team: Burkina Faso
Preferred foot: Left
In January of 2011, a 15-year-old from the western African nation of Burkina Faso told the BBC’s Matthew Kenyon, “I want to play in the first team for Chelsea.” You know who else has had that thought? Pretty much any kid who has ever kicked a soccer ball (in the Abramovich era, anyway). The difference between most of us and that young man, though, is that Bertrand Traore might have the skill to get there.
Fast-forward to today, and the now 17-year-old Traore is living his dream. During Chelsea’s three-game preseason tour of Southeast Asia, the attacking midfielder scored twice in three appearances, appearing as a substitute in the first two games and starting the third. His excellent work against the Malaysia XI on July 21 was rewarded early in the match with a nifty finish off of a forward move he himself began, and he later assisted on Romelu Lukaku’s goal. Traore’s goal four days later against the Indonesia All-Stars was a particularly stunning effort, as he curled a beautiful left-footed shot into the upper 90 from about 19 yards out.
Traore has demonstrated outstanding technical ability on the ball, both distributing to teammates in the channels (as he showed with his feed to Lukaku) and fearlessly taking on opposing midfielders and defenders. He is most at home playing in the No. 10 role, a forward-thinking central mid whose primary focus is pushing the attack and creating opportunities for both himself and his teammates. His goal against Indonesia proved that he can finish from distance, a skill he has displayed since his U-17 World Cup days.
While the recent competition was not exactly at a Premier League level, Traore’s performance on the preseason tour drew praise from his Chelsea teammates. England international Gary Cahill told the BBC that Traore has “certainly not looked out of place in training alongside some top international players.” His manager, Jose Mourinho, stated: “Traore, we would like to keep. We need to wait until he is 18 to see.”
Because of FIFA’s strict rules around signing foreign youth players, Traore is not eligible to sign with any European-based team until he turns 18—in this case, Sept. 6. At that point he is free to join the highest bidder. The rules, however, only get more convoluted from there. Work permits in the United Kingdom are only automatically issued to players whose country rank 70th or better in the FIFA world rankings and who have appeared in 75 percent of their team’s games in the previous two years. Burkina Faso meets the first criterion (they’re currently No. 42), but Traore has yet to meet the second.
Essentially, then, Chelsea would need to sign Traore and immediately loan him out to another European club in order for Traore to accumulate enough “work” experience to ease the process of later securing a permit . The fear for Chelsea is that Traore may decide to take a much easier path to European football and join his brother Alain, who plays for Ligue 1 side FC Lorient. France does not have the same permit restrictions as the U.K., and the younger Traore would likely be immediately fast-tracked into the first team, so that option could be quite tantalizing for the teenager. Bertrand was, after all, already named to Burkina Faso’s team for the 2012 African Cup of Nations and has eight caps to his credit, so he has experience against adult competition.
Having been on Chelsea’s radar since he was a 14-year-old playing in the Under-17 World Cup, Traore seems destined to play for the Blues. He’s gone on record saying Chelsea is where he wants to be, and Mourinho wants him there, too. The only thing to settle at this point, it seems, is how and when it goes down.