Auxerre midfielder Alain Traore has been the revelation of the French league season so far, leading the Ligue 1 scoring charts with five goals after seven rounds of games. The 22-year-old has also replicated his eye-catching club form for Burkina Faso in the qualifying competition for the 2012 CAF African Cup of Nations, top-scoring for the Stallions as they sealed a place in the continental finals.
Understandably, national coach Paulo Duarte is delighted with Traore’s recent displays: “I’ve been pushing him to produce this kind of form for the last two and a half years,” said the Portuguese boss. “He had the quality but lacked maturity. He wasn’t getting many games at Auxerre, but he still turned up for the national side believing he was a star when he was no such thing. I hope he carries on this way, though I doubt he’ll end the season as top scorer.”
As Traore admits in an interview with FIFA.com, his early-season goal rush, which has included four long-range strikes with his favoured left-foot, has been wholly unexpected: “I’m not a goalscorer. My game’s more about being creative than scoring, but when the chance to shoot on goal arises, I’ll take it. If nothing else, these goals show that I’m on the way to taking my game up a level, and I hope I can keep it going.”
Plotting a career path
Traore’s future very nearly lay at Old Trafford. Spotted by the mighty Manchester United while playing for Gambia at the 2005 CAF U-17 African Cup of Nations, he was ultimately dissuaded from joining the Premier League giants by his mother. “I was all set to go to Manchester, but it was my mum who made the final decision,” he explained. “She felt that a club like Auxerre would be more beneficial for me, and seeing how things are working out now, I don’t regret the decision one bit.”
The French outfit have provided Traore with the family atmosphere he needed, with the likes of Olivier Sorin, Adama Coulibaly and Benoit Pedretti, now at Lille, all happy to take him under their wings. Joining the club in 2006, he would perfect the skills he first honed at the Planete Champion Academy in the Burkinabe capital of Ouagadougou. “Auxerre are a family club and it was the ideal place for me to carry on my training,” he said. “I was 17 when I came here and I wasn’t ready to play at the highest level until last year. I’m getting a game now though, and I’m taking my chance.”
If we really put our minds to it and apply ourselves I think we can really do something at the African Cup of Nations.
After making his Ligue 1 debut under Jean Fernandez against Valenciennes in August 2006, Traore spent the next four seasons playing his club football in the second division, while on loan with Brest, and in the CFA (the fourth tier of the French league system) with Auxerre B.
He returned to the big stage last September, appearing in a UEFA Champions League match against Real Madrid. It was just the challenge the aspiring youngster needed: “Not everyone gets the chance to play against Real Madrid, and it gave me confidence. I responded to the occasion and it’s the kind of night you never forget. The stage was set for me to have a great game and I took my opportunity.”
He was rewarded with another first-team place against Arles-Avignon four days later, marking the occasion with his first L1 goal and remaining an integral part of the side ever since. “He’s got some tremendous qualities and he’s on the way up,” said Laurent Fournier, his current coach at Auxerre. “The hardest part for him starts now, however. He needs to work even harder because people will be expecting more of him. This is when we’ll see if he’s going to turn into a great player.”
No one is more aware of the hurdles that lie ahead than Traore himself: “My top priority today is to ensure that the team keeps on playing good football, to get stronger, work on my weaknesses and perfect my strengths.”
Those strengths have come in handy for his country, who have been indebted to the performances of their rising star, whose latest goalscoring contribution to the Stallion cause came in the recent 1-0 friendly defeat of Equatorial Guinea. And as far as Traore is concerned, the success of the national side has come as no surprise: “Burkina Faso have put a lot into bringing on their young players and that hard work is starting to pay off. They’re getting valuable experience with European clubs and the upshot of that is that we now have a young and competitive team.”
So how far can the ambitious Stallions go? “If we really put our minds to it and apply ourselves I think we can really do something at the African Cup of Nations,” came the answer, Traore providing an equally optimistic response when asked about Burkina Faso’s prospects of reaching the FIFA World Cup™ for the first time at Brazil 2014: “We’ve spoken about it and it’s one of our objectives. All we’re concentrating on now, though, is the continental finals. Then we’ll see.”