WHEN Bertrand Traore was included in Chelsea’s pre-season tour part in the summer of 2013 he was an unknown. But, despite the Blues’ best efforts, that did not remain the case for long.
The 21-year-old further enhanced his reputation on Wednesday evening by scoring twice for loan club Ajax as the Dutch outfit trounced Lyon 4-1 in the first leg of their Europa League semi-final.
We asked our friends at Football Whispers to profile the Burkinabe forward who has been tearing up the Europa League.
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Rewind to 2013 and Traore was as something of a wildcard selection when Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea set off for Thailand.
He made his debut against the Singha All Stars and scored twice in three pre-season outings to underline his potential.
Defender Gary Cahill was impressed and said: “He’s certainly not looked out of place among some top international players. He’s composed on the ball and has great confidence for such a young lad.”
By that stage Traore had already starred for Burkina Faso at the 2009 Under-17 World Cup and was handed his full debut for the west African nation at 15.
Traore had been known to Chelsea for some time.
As a 16-year-old he spent six weeks on trial at Stamford Bridge and played in a friendly fixture for the Blues against Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium in October 2011.
It was a fixture which threatened to jeopardise his Chelsea career before it had even begun.
Traore originally signed a four-and-a-half-year contract with the club in October 2013 and signed professional terms on January 1, 2014.
However, there were fears that Chelsea had broken FIFA rules by playing Traore in that fixture against the Gunners.
Fifa regulations do not allow the international transfer of players under 18. But both clubs were adamant the fixture had been a friendly and Traore was, at that stage, still a trialist.
Despite signing pro terms with the west Londoners Traore could not play for the Blues’ first team as he did not have a work permit.
Mourinho had no concerns over the future of the young forward, though, and said at the time: “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.”
In the meantime he headed to Vitesse Arnhem, one of Chelsea’s sister clubs, and scored three times in seven Eredivisie starts before the end of the campaign.
That was enough for all parties to agree to an extension of the loan deal which would see Traore remain in the Netherlands for the 2014/15 campaign.
Traore was impressive again and finished his first full season in European football with 17 goals in all competitions.
By this point Mourinho had seen enough. When Traore reported for pre-season in the summer of 2015 he was given the number 14 jersey vacated by Andre Schurrle and included in the first-team squad for the new season.
Traore made his Blues debut in the Champions League, coming on as a substitute against Maccabi Tel Aviv in a 4-0 group stage victory at Stamford Bridge.
He had to wait until December for his Premier League bow – again as a substitute – in a shock 1-0 home defeat against Bournemouth.
The following month Traore scored his first senior goal for the club in a 5-1 rout of MK Dons in the FA Cup at Stamford Bridge. He finished his maiden campaign as a first-team player with four goals in 15 appearances across all competitions.
But the £33million signing of Michy Batshuayi, coupled with Diego Costa’s return to form, meant chances at Chelsea would be limited this season and Traore joined Ajax on loan for the 2016/17 campaign.
Handed the number nine shirt, Traore did not get off to the best start at the Johan Cruyff Arena and had to wait until his sixth league appearance, against PEC Zwolle, to open his account.
Manager Peter Bosz, who had been his coach at Vitesse, criticised the youngster’s fitness in November, saying: “There is nothing wrong with his attitude but he is not in good shape.
“I know he can do much better that he has shown at Ajax in his early days. It is important that he gets back to form as soon as possible.”
It was not the first time Traore’s physical condition has been questioned with Former Burkina Faso manager Paulo Duarte also critical.
However, Traore has grown into the season and has 13 goals and four assists in all competitions for Ajax.
On Wednesday night he scored the opener against Lyon with a deft header from a free-kick before stabbing home Hakim Ziyech’s inviting cross from point-blank range.
Traore is well known across Europe now. The only question that remains is whether he can force his way into Antonio Conte’s thinking.