Adama Traore won the adidas Golden Ball at the 2015 FIFA U-20 World Cup
Five years on and having recovered from serious injury, he is thinking big again
Monaco playmaker aiming to take Mali to the World Cup for the first time
Most footballers dream of going down in the history of their sport. Young Mali playmaker Adama Traore is no exception, having already left his mark on the FIFA U-20 World Cup. Like Lionel Messi in 2005, Sergio Aguero in 2007 and Paul Pogba in 2013, he won the competition’s adidas Golden Ball in 2015.
“I was very proud to follow in the footsteps of stars like them,” he told FIFA.com. “Not many people can say they’ve won that award. I’m aware, though, that my career doesn’t compare to theirs. All the same, it’s a source of motivation for me and it pushes me to work even harder to win new trophies.”
Name: Adama Traore Date of birth: 28 June 1995 Club: AS Monaco (on loan to Metz) Position: Playmaker Caps: 15 (4 goals)
That coveted accolade, which Traore collected after helping Mali take third place in the tournament, was his last to date. It is a barren run that owes nothing to a lack of ambition or talent and everything to the fates conspiring against him. Within a few weeks of his impressive New Zealand 2015 campaign, and after signing for French club AS Monaco, the high-flying Eagle suffered a serious ankle injury.
“I’ve been through some tough times since that injury,” said the midfielder, who played only 15 games between 2016 and 2019. “It’s been a long, long way back to full fitness and it’s only been this season that I’ve started to feel good and get my form back.”
In a loan spell with Metz, he has played more matches this year than in the previous three. In the process, he showed he has not lost his gift for the game.
Traore’s return to form has come at just the right time for his national team. A regular presence at the CAF Africa Cup of Nations, the Eagles are hoping to reach the FIFA World Cup™ for the first time in their history, with the second round of the continent’s qualifying competition set to begin later this year.
“I’ve played at the U-20 World Cup and I have some wonderful memories of it,” he said. “I can barely imagine what it’s like to play at the World Cup. It’s what every player dreams of. If we work hard, stick at it and stick together, we can qualify.”
That recipe has worked to perfection for Mali’s youth teams, who have regularly excelled at U-17 and U-20 level. In contrast, the country’s seniors have found success a good deal harder to come by. “I think a lot of it comes down to the mental side of things and perhaps to a lack of experience at major tournaments,” explained Traore. “I’ve got faith, though, and I’m convinced we have the quality to qualify this time.”
There is every reason to believe him. In addition to a revitalised Traore and his fast-maturing colleagues in that impressive U-20 squad, Mali can also call on the clutch of talented youngsters that took the country to the last four at both the 2015 and 2017 U-17 World Cups. And then there are the old hands: captain Molla Wague, front man Moussa Marega and Mali’s other Adama Traore, one of their chief goal threats.
“Yes, people get us mixed up,” said Adama Traore of his older namesake, who also happens to play for Metz. “We’re friends and people tell us apart by calling me ‘Noss’ after Nostradamus.”
All that 'Noss'Traore has to do now is make his own name, or rather surname, in the history of Malian football.