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Premier League

Chelsea battle to keep Bertrand Traoré after teenager excels in Asia


There is anxiety at Chelsea that they could lose the exceptional 17-year-old midfielder Bertrand Traoré over the next six weeks before they are able to hand the teenager a professional  contract on his 18th birthday in September.

The Burkina Faso international scored his second goal of the club’s Asia tour on Thursday night in Jakarta, a spectacular left-foot shot from the inside right channel. Yet afterwards, club officials tried to stop Chelsea players even discussing Traoré, claiming he was a “triallist” and attempting to divert attention away from the youngster.

Under Fifa regulations, Chelsea  cannot give the player a professional contract until he is 18 on 6 September, in accordance with the rule that prohibits international transfers for  non-European Union players until that age. Yet it would appear that Traoré “the triallist” has been at Chelsea for some time, at least as early as September 2011. He is in the United Kingdom on a student visa.

The concern for Chelsea is that the teenager, who has had an association with Auxerre in the past, is effectively a free agent. Chelsea are in the process of applying for a Home Office work permit for him, although they are not convinced they will succeed. If that is the case they would not yet be able to offer him first-team football and he could theoretically be persuaded to sign for another European club when he turns 18 on the basis they could fast-track him into the first team.

Traoré was first scouted by Premier League clubs when playing as a  14-year-old for Burkina Faso at the Under-17 World Cup finals in Nigeria in 2009. In an interview he gave to the BBC in January 2011 he mentioned an interest from Chelsea. He said then: “I like Chelsea because we have Africans there – [Didier] Drogba, [Michael] Essien, [John] Obi [Mikel].”

Traoré has a brother, Alain, 25, who plays for Lorient having previously been at Auxerre. Both brothers were in the squad for Burkina Faso at last year’s African Cup of Nations. Jose Mourinho has talked openly about how highly he rates Traoré and selected him from a large pool of academy and Under-21s players to make up the numbers of his Asia tour squad.

The Chelsea and England defender Gary Cahill said that Traoré had taken his chance well.  He said: “I don’t know the ins and outs of the situation, but he’s certainly done himself no harm in the two weeks we’ve been here. It’s too early to say he’s ready to do this and that, and we don’t want to get  carried away, but he’s certainly not looked out of place in training alongside some top international players. He’s a young lad but I’m sure he’s got a bright future at Chelsea.”

The young players in the squad, Nathaniel Chalobah, Josh McEachran and Lucas Piazon, will all now go on loan while Islam Feruz returns to play for the Under-21s. Tomorrow, Fernando Torres, Juan Mata, David Luiz, Oscar, Cesar Azpilicueta and John Obi Mikel join up with Mourinho’s squad, who fly to the United States on Tuesday.