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How Tony Pulis has helped bring the best out of Adama Traore at Middlesbrough

From his first 42 games as a Middlesbrough player, Traore did not score. In the last ten he has found the net four times

Martin Hardy
Friday 16 March 2018 16:46 GMT
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Adama Traore celebrates scoring against QPR earlier this season
Adama Traore celebrates scoring against QPR earlier this season (Getty)

“If a player is willing to work as hard as he’s asking, Tony will bring the best out of them, no doubt.’

Ryan Shotton was sat in a plush hotel suite when the conversation turned to the talent he has to protect in a Middlesbrough shirt. Shotton is the club’s right back and in front of him is the mercurial Adama Traore, perhaps the most gifted footballer in England outside of the Premier League.

Lightning quick, skilful, powerful and with confidence to score with either foot, it remains a mystery that his fellow countryman, Aitor Karanka, could not unlock a player developed in Barcelona’s academy. He had signed him, and then appeared to lose faith in him. Garry Monk, who followed Karanka at Middlesbrough as permanent manager, could no more tap into a reservoir of potential (by which point Newcastle had come sniffing and been quickly rebuffed).

There were certain things that were supposed to happen when Tony Pulis took over as Middlesbrough manager in December. They would become hard to beat, they would concede less goals, they would look to set plays and if anyone - Shotton himself, a former player Pulis had at Stoke - could throw the ball a long way, they would be utilised.

In the last five games, it has started to happen. Middlesbrough have marched into a play-off place on the back of four wins and a draw, scoring 13 goals in the process, and yet a key element has proved a surprise.

Pulis has put his trust and his motivational skills into Traore and that was not foreseen. He has been given freedom and the elevation has been remarkable. From his first 42 games as a Middlesbrough player, Traore did not score. In the last ten he has found the net four times. More than that, there have been occasions when he has looked absolutely unplayable.

Shotton is his policeman behind him, told not to dream of overlapping his Spanish team-mate, but the pay-off is that he can watch a truly destructive player in full flight, one given license by the most unlikely of sources.


 Tony Pulis has helped bring out the best in Adama Traore 
 (Getty)

“Tony is the kind of manager that will either make or break a player,” he added.

“He challenges the player. If he buys into it, which Adama has done brilliantly so far, Tony can really help him in the right way, he knows how to man-manage footballers.

“I was playing right wing for Tony when I was at Stoke. I was only young. For him to put the trust in me was massive.

“I didn’t know anything about Adama when I signed last summer. The lads were like, ‘Listen, he’s quick”. I was like, ‘Yeah, I’ve heard players are quick in the past’, but then he just turned up and the first game I watched was Bolton and was one of the best he’d played.

“He’s a sensation, give him the ball and I know he will get us 50 yards up the pitch and make a chance. A lot of people forget he’s only 22, because of how he’s built and how he is and how mature he looks. It’s coming with age.”

When Traore scored the first goal of his Middlesbrough career at Queens Park Rangers, it was Pulis who pushed him out to talk to the media, a rare occurrence for a shy man.

When he scored against Reading, he ran and hugged his manager.

The Spaniard is currently enjoying a rich vein of form at Middlesbrough (Getty)

“Every couple of days he’s working with me, telling me how I need to move, with the ball or without it, where to be on the pitch,” said Traore, who joined Barcelona’s academy when he was eight.

“I’m listening. It’s helping me get goals and assists. He’s been a big influence on me since he came and I wanted to say thank you. The manager has told me I have a lot of quality. I can learn.”

Traore played once for Barcelona, coming on as a substitute for Cesc Fabregas in a Champions League defeat at Ajax in 2013. It was Tim Sherwood who brought the player to England when he was managing at Aston Villa for £7m, before Karanka took him to the Riverside Stadium in 2016, on a four-year deal.

Perhaps unlikely, ceilings on what he can achieve are lifting under Pulis. A player to make defenders frightened has emerged.

“The whole thing is about what you want,” added Traore. “The manager has given me the confidence. Now I’m working hard to be the best player I can be. Before I didn’t have the confidence and the experience to trust myself. Now I just want to show the gaffer what I've got."

It might just be enough to fire Middlesbrough back into the Premier League.

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