Bertrand Traoré has joined Aston Villa as the club’s fourth signing of the summer in a deal worth up to £19m from Champions League semi-finalists Olympique Lyonnais.
Following the arrivals of goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez from Arsenal, striker Ollie Watkins from Brentford and right-back Matty Cash from Nottingham Forest, Traoré returns to the Premier League with a point to prove.
The signing is a major boost for Dean Smith, who has revealed Wesley may not return from his knee injury until next year, and capturing Traoré is another indication of Smith’s desire to revamp his squad.
“We’re delighted that Bertrand has chosen to come to Villa,” said Villa boss Smith.
“He’s a player with immense talent who will really enhance our attacking options.”
Traoré was understood to have been keen to link up with former teammate John Terry from his time with Chelsea as a teenager.
Traoré added in his first interview with VillaTV: “I spoke to the Manager, spoke with the Sporting Director as well and some players I used to play with – Nakamba and El Ghazi.
“I spoke to Nakamba, I talked to him a little bit about the club.
“I played with JT at Chelsea, I spoke to him.
“I’m very happy to join Aston Villa, many things made me take the decision to come here.”
After a couple of loan moves away from Stamford Bridge, the Burkina Faso international made his first permanent switch from West London to Bruno Génésio’s Lyon in 2017.
Lyon paid £8.8m to prise him away from Chelsea with the Blues reportedly having a 15% sell-on fee and first refusal should he move elsewhere on a permanent deal away from Les Gones, where he penned a five-year contract.
After playing a crucial role in Lyon’s success over the two seasons following his arrival on the Rhône, it was no coincidence that Traoré’s performances contributed to successive Champions League qualifications in Ligue 1.
The winger contributed to 41 goals in 91 appearances in all competitions over the 2016-17 and 2017-18 campaigns, including 29 goals coming in off the right flank. Last season however, his performances met a sharp decline following Rudi Garciá’s tactical alterations as Lyon boss.
Lyon reverted to a wing-back system that, while producing a Champions League semi-final appearance last season, saw Lyon finish 7th in Ligue 1 – that to the detriment of Traoré’s performances.
Throughout his three year stay in France, Traoré formed formidable front-three partnerships with forwards Mariano Díaz, Memphis Depay and more recently Maxwell Cornet and the exciting Rayan Cherki.
Often deployed on the right of Lyon’s attacking trio when selected, Traore’s left-foot is predominantly his strongest foot and possesses flair that on his day, can match Riyad Mahrez with agility and close ball control particularly his strengths.
In the 2018-19 season, Traoré was the highest in Ligue 1 for ‘goal-creating actions’ (a pass, dribble or drawing fouls) with 0.64 per game. Last season for the French side, he touched the ball 816 times, with 401 being inside the attacking third.
Villa boss Smith will be looking to increase Traoré’s attacking output from last term. His four goal contributions in 23 league games aren’t reflective of the player once tipped by Jose Mourinho to go onto big things at Chelsea. From his youth, Traoré would have his highs and lows, but Villa’s new man will seek consistency next season to partner his proven quality in England’s top-flight.
In August 2010, it was reported that Traoré had rejected Manchester United in a bid to join the then Premier League Champions Chelsea from French side AJ Auxerre. The youngster had emerged at the 2009 FIFA under-17 World Cup as a 14-year-old – he was the youngest player in the tournament.
The news of Traoré joining Chelsea’s new-look academy set-up was the talk of the town across Burkina Faso. He was the first of his country to join a top European club, and at such a tender age, many in West Africa were excited to see him grow up playing alongside Didier Drogba, Michael Essien and John Obi Mikel in the near future.
After FIFA implemented stricter protection of minors laws, Traore wouldn’t commit his future at Chelsea for some years while his early promise was trumped by his elder brother Alain, whose performances at Auxerre was gaining traction in Ligue 1.
Bertrand would continue to apply his trade for the Chelsea under-18s in his infant development years alongside the likes of Nathan Aké and Ruben Loftus-Cheek. In 2013, Traoré travelled on Chelsea’s pre-season tour to Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta, playing as a trialist and scoring against a Malaysia XI.
Mourinho, speaking at Chelsea’s pre-season tour of Asia, said: “Now we want to keep him. We have to wait until he becomes 18 to try to get a permit for him to stay in England.
“It’s the rules and we have to accept them. He plays for his national team. Sooner or later the committee has to give him a permit to play in England.”
Former Chelsea defender Gary Cahill added: “He’s certainly not looked out of place in training alongside some top international players. I’m sure he’s got a bright future at Chelsea.”
Following his 18th birthday, on the first day of the 2014 January transfer window, Traoré officially signed for the club, before being swiftly loaned to Vitesse Arnhem. Vitesse boss at the time Peter Bosz said Mourinho was “crazy about him” and had plans to introduce Traoré into his first team in the coming years.
Learning from Mourinho and Bosz
Like many of Chelsea’s youngsters, Traoré was sent to Holland to gain some first-team experience, and Villa’s new winger got 18 months of it under current Bayer Leverkusen manager, Bosz.
A couple of weeks after signing for Vitesse, he deputised at the GelreDome, replacing fellow Chelsea loanee Lucas Piazon on the hour mark in a 1-1 draw against NEC Nijmegen.
The winger enjoyed an impressive start to life in the Eredivisie, scoring three times in just the six starts he racked up in his first spell at Vitesse. After four and half months at Vitesse, Traoré would commit to the duration of the following season.
Traoré managed an impressive 25 goal contributions in 38 appearances in all competitions during his second spell at the club.
Vitesse coach Bosz believed Traore would make a huge impact in the Premier League after being granted a work permit upon his return to Chelsea at the end of the season.
“I think he’s going to get to the absolute top,” Bosz said.
“Jose Mourinho is crazy about him. He will give him a chance.”
Traoré was given a vote of confidence by Mourinho back at Stamford Bridge when he was handed the number 14 shirt, previously won by World Cup winner André Schürrle coming into the 2015-16 campaign. A couple of months after receiving a work permit and clearance to play for Chelsea in 2015, Traoré made his Chelsea debut in a 4–0 victory against Maccabi Tel Aviv in the UEFA Champions League group stage.
After the odd appearance at the end of the calendar year, it wasn’t until early 2016 that Traoré made his mark in a Chelsea shirt, six years after joining as a schoolboy. Netting four goals in five appearances for the Blues, including a goal against Manchester City impressed Chelsea’s hierarchy enough to hand him his first Champions League appearance against PSG only days after scoring his second Premier League goal against Stoke City.
Making an impression in Europe
Despite impressing in fleeting displays in the season prior to Antonio Conte taking over at the Bridge, it was clear Traoré wasn’t in the plans of the Italian. He was sent out on loan once again to the Netherlands, but this time to Dutch giants Ajax.
He scored nine goals in 24 league outings for Ajax under Bosz, and was part of the team that reached the Europa League final in 2016-17, losing to Mourinho’s Manchester United. It was a season of familiarity for Traoré, playing under a manager who had full faith in his ability.
Traoré goals and performances in the Europa League were crucial to Ajax’s run in the competition. He scored four goals in the 2016–17 tournament, including two goals in the first leg of the semi-final against his future club Lyon.
Villa’s fourth signing of the summer window even capped an impressive stint at the Amsterdam ArenA by featuring in the UEFA Europa League Squad of the Season: 2016–17. Many even suggested Traoré was Ajax’s ‘most potent threat’ in the final.
Days after Villa’s ambitious five-year plan was announced, no sooner was Traoré unveiled – he’s the quality of signing that can add some flair and guile Villa need to achieve their goals one step at a time.
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