- Rising star Lassina Traore plays for Ajax and Burkina Faso
- Scored a quintuple for his club last October, a first since Marco van Basten
- "We’ve got what it takes to achieve big things."
Lassina Traore had a very big hand in Ajax Amsterdam’s 13-0 thrashing of VVV-Venlo on 24 October last year, scoring five goals and setting up three more. In the process the man from Burkina Faso became the first Ajax player to score as many goals in an Eredivisie match since Marco van Basten struck six against Sparta Rotterdam back in 1985.
It was no mean feat for a player who will turn 20 this January and who has only broken into the first team this season. Yet for anyone who has been following his performances with Ajax’s reserves since arriving in Europe two years ago, it perhaps came as less of a surprise. A powerful and lethal finisher and a consummate team player, Traore is repaying the faith that the Dutch giants showed in signing him from their former South African feeder team Ajax Cape Town [now known as Cape Town Spurs].
As Traore explained, however, it took time for him to make his mark in the Netherlands: “It was tough and the standard was really high. I realised how hard I would need to work. I remember one training session in the United States where I had Matthijs de Ligt right on my back. He couldn’t have marked me any tighter. He was strong like me and very quick. It was the first time for me and he got the ball off me every time, though things would be different today,” he added with a smile.
Keen to learn and a hard worker, Traore made every effort to adapt to his new life on and off the pitch. Luckily for him, his arrival at Ajax coincided with their thrilling run to the semi-finals of the UEFA Champions League in the 2018/19 season.
“It was amazing,” he recalled. “I felt so proud. Even though my first year was really tough, I was really happy to be part of that adventure.” It was an adventure in which he made his first appearance on the bench in the dramatic semi-final second-leg defeat to Tottenham.
A family affair
One good reason for Traore’s rise to prominence is the fact that he hails from a family that has football in its blood. His mother was as passionate about the game as anyone and has been in love with it since her childhood days. "Her parents didn’t want her to play football and she had to make sure they didn’t catch her training and playing matches,” said the young striker. “Then, when she started to make some money from it, they understood that it was serious and let her play."
And play she did, becoming the captain and playmaker of Burkina Faso’s women’s national team. “I went with her everywhere when I was young,” said Traore. “I was there when she was training and when she was playing. That’s where my passion for the game comes from. She gives me career advice but when it comes to things out on the pitch, she knows that I know what to do. She’s taught me how to rest, how to lead a healthy life, and how to focus the day before matches."
His father also played football, though not at the highest level, while his uncle, Rahim Ouedraogo, played for Burkina Faso before founding a club, Rahimo FC, in the city of Bobo-Dioulasso in 2012. Now one of the country’s leading clubs, it runs an academy that Traore joined at the age of 11. “I learned everything I know there,” said the Ajax front man, who fed his dreams of glory by watching the national team in action and following the exploits of his two favourite players: Didier Drogba and Emmanuel Adebayor.
Traore is also the cousin of Bertrand Traore, the former Ajax and current Aston Villa forward, and sees him as something of a big brother, after the role he played in helping him adjust to his new life in Europe. The two played side by side for their country in 2017, when Lassina won his first cap at just 16. Despite his tender age, he began his international career with a bang, scoring three goals in his first two outings with the Stallions.
The Ajax star is part of an exciting new generation of Burkinese players who are building on the progress of the last ten years and are full of confidence heading into their next African engagements. First up come the last two qualifying matches for the 2021 CAF Africa Cup of Nations in March, followed shortly afterwards by the start of the preliminaries for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™.
As Traore explained, the Stallions have their sights set on reaching the world finals for the very first time: “The people of Burkina Faso are starting to believe we can do it. They know we’ve got a team that can go far, especially with the new generation that’s coming through. They’re linking up well with the experienced players who reached the Africa Cup of Nations final in 2013 and finished third in 2017. We’ll get our reward as long as we stick at it, and we’ve got what it takes to achieve big things.”