We need to talk about Bertie

He made the right hand side his own last year, don’t expect him to give it up.

Humour me for a second and cast your minds back to Friday, September 25th. Cast your minds back to our Carabao Cup fixture against Bristol City, where Traore made his debut. Many a fan would be lying if they claimed to have known much about the winger who had made only 10 league appearances for Chelsea before being shipped to the Eredivisie. Much like many a talent that grace Chelsea’s Cobham training grounds, not making the grade at the club isn’t as much a footballing decision, as it is a financial one. In that 2015-2016 season for the current UCL holders, he finished the year with 16 appearances in all comps, posting a very respectable 4 goals and 1 assist for the then 18-year old…more so when you remember it was that season under Jose Mourinho at the Bridge, culminating in a 10th place finish for the West London outfit.

“Going from Chelsea was the best decision for me. I am enjoying myself, as a young player you can only improve if you are playing every week.”

Bertrand Traore on leaving Chelsea, 2017.

Their model is plain to see and it is an effective one at that. So after leaving these shores in 2017, the mercurial winger returned in the colours of claret and blue. There was a lot of intrigue…after all, he’d arrived from a club that had just knocked out a much-lauded Pep Guardiola side in the UCL. So clearly there was some sort of talent, but none of us knew to what extent… Is he lightning quick? He has some speed. Is he industrious? Didn’t look like it. And what about skill? Well, judging by his debut goal the jury was still out. Promising youngster Jacob Ramsey picked him out with a lovely crossfield ball, out onto Traore’s favoured right-hand side, where he delivered a cultured finish that looped over the keeper. He’d just scored a first-time volley with the instep of his weaker right foot.

We’re delighted that Bertrand has chosen to come to Villa. He’s a player with immense talent who will really enhance our attacking options.

Dean Smith

Now at the time, there’s no way you could say he meant it. It was too perfect…nonchalant even. Fast forward a season with him gliding down our right-hand side channels? I still don’t believe he had that in mind, but after his goals against Newcastle, Manchester United and in my head one of the most aesthetically pleasing goals ever scored in the Premier League against West Brom…there could be a very strong argument for that goal on his debut being exactly what he had in mind.

36 games, 7 goals and 6 assists is not a bad return for a player re-entering a league in a team that surprised a lot of people this year. We have a player that is severely underrated amongst our fan base and someone, who along with Grealish during the 2020/2021 season had the ability to move past a player as if they weren’t there; check out his assist for Watkins winner against Arsenal at home for definitive proof. Now it’s clear, he’ll never be a 30 goal a season, inside forward like a certain Egyptian down in Merseyside.

But that isn’t because of ability. That’s down to explosiveness. It’s a big if, but if our Traore had the speed of a former Traore in this league, we’d be talking about a player ready to explode (I mean, imagine if Adama had Bertie’s skill set, he’d be unstoppable). In those wide areas cutting inside the fullback, devastating speed is so important for stacking up those numbers and it’s very rare to see someone without that electric speed reach those highs.

For a long time, I’ve always felt that’s something we’ve missed, which makes sense when you see us linked with Leon Bailey (who we will discuss properly in due time) and for a very long time, Norwich City signing Milot Rashica.

But one thing he has that arguably nobody else has in our squad? Goal scoring versatility. El Ghazi is very chalk and cheese, ranging from the spectacular to solely penalties. Trezeguet is industrious but hugely wasteful (that’s a whole other post). Ings is the ultimate fox in the box who is capable of a screamer, as we have found out most of the year. Watkins has been VERY unlucky this season but he will be a certified “fox in the box” so he doesn’t have a foot in this race. Ramsey is to be seen and what else is to be said about our former captain Jack Grealish? I watch him thinking he could score at any minute. He’s just that good on the ball. That said, I have to admit I’m always a little surprised when he does score; I’ve come to expect to see him take on 5 players and assist one of the aforementioned in typical Grealish style. Now he isn’t our problem anymore and I wish him all the best, but that does leave a very big creative and responsibility shaped hole in our team, we need a new main man. We are no longer a one-man team, but everyone has a main man. Someone you’d rather not see in the starting line-up… Man City and De Bruyne come to mind as an example.

But for me, Traore has been in the right place at the right time, he’s produced moments of magic, he’s been clinical, he’s been scrappy and just outright outrageous. The goal next year is to prove he isn’t a “Papis Cisse” type player, who had a real eye for the spectacular but then faded away once the magic left his boots. This brings us on to…

Emi Buendia. His arrival is great for a lot of reasons, but non more so than the fact we now have genuine competition for a place in our team that was already causing our opposition a lot of trouble. After all, you don’t give someone the No.10 without wanting them to be a central part of how your team plays. But don’t sleep on Bertie, because he’s only going to get better. Who knows what the potential added responsibility could bring to his game.



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