Traore makes the difference

As the 2013 Nations Cup heads towards the final round of group games two stand-out performances have come from Burkina Faso and Alain Traore.

Traore is the tournament’s top scorer with three goals so far. First came a dramatic almost last kick of the ball equaliser against Nigeria, then a brace in the 4-0 thumping of Ethiopia.

We shouldn’t forget that it was Traore who scored the vital goals in the final qualifying game to earn the Stallions their AFCON spot.

After losing the first leg of their qualifier 1-0 at Central African Republic, Burkina Faso were still only winning the return leg 2-1 with five minutes of second-half injury-time already gone. It was Traore who had the equaliser in the 18th minute, and he popped up to score his second in the sixth minute of stoppage time for a dramatic 3-1 win and 3-2 aggregate victory.

Goals have always been part of his game, whether as a striker with his country or midfielder with his club. Perhaps a clue to his preferred position comes on his personal website where he describes himself as an attacking midfielder.

Traore plays his club football in France for Lorient, but there is talk that a move to Liverpool could be imminent. He might already be in the English Premier League but for the intervention of his mother when he failed to secure a work permit.

The 24-year-old playmaker had a trial with Manchester United back in 2005.

The rules in England state a non European union player should have played in 70 percent of his country’s internationals in the previous year to be eligible for a work permit.

The Burkina Faso international was unable to get the relevant paperwork processed to complete his switch to England and has ended up plying his trade in the French top-flight - first at Auxerre and now at Lorient.

Traore is delighted with the way things have turned out, with it possible for him to look back now and appreciate that making an impact at United would have been difficult.
"Do I regret having joined Auxerre rather than Manchester United? Not at all," Traore told L'Equipe.
"At Auxerre I played with the reserves, what would United have done? Sent me back to Africa? During my month in Manchester I played one match and all of the professionals watched us and I met with Alex Ferguson.
"Of course I wanted to stay, but there was a problem with my work permit. I would have had to be sent on loan to Belgium for six months and my mother refused. She preferred Auxerre."

Traoré had begun his career with Planete Champion  football academy in Burkina Faso and first came to prominence at the2005 Under-17 World Cup where with his performances earned that Old Trafford trial. When that ended he joined Auxerre in July 2005.

In 2009 he spent six months  on loan with Stade Brest 29 in Ligue 2. Traore says the loan to a league that was more physical than technical helped to make him a more rounded player when he returned to Auxerre.

Traoré became a regular at Auxerre, but in July 2012 moved on to Lorient when they were relegated to Ligue 2.

He has sometimes been called inconsistent, sometimes moving from great highs to periods of anonymity on the pitch. But it is a criticism he rejects. "It gets on my nerves. It is as if it was my fault each time Lorient does not win a game. Only two players can win a game 'on their own': Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.

“During the first games of this season, there was a lot of enthusiasm, every player wanted to earn his starting place. Afterwards, we might have lost a part of this enthusiasm. One positive thing is that we usually always scored at least one goal. This team has quality, just give us some time."

It’s the same with Burkina Faso, and compared with 2010 and 2012 this team is coming nicely to the boil. The victory over Ethiopia was the first by a Burkinabe team in the Cup of Nations finals outside Burkina.

The team had failed to escape the group stages in 2010 and 2012 - drawing only once and losing four times.

Traore says: "There were lots of young players back in 2010. We all lacked experience. Year after year, we have acquired maturity and self-confidence. Most of us now play in good championships and most of us are starters in good clubs. It is quite new for the Stallions."

His younger brother Bertrand is part of the academy setup of English Premiership side Chelsea makes it a family affair as he also plays for the national team.

The job is not yet done in Group C with a game to go, but you can be sure Alain Traore will continue to play an important part in the unfolding story of the Stallions.

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