Bertrand Traore: Call off the search
Bertrand Traore has been associated with Chelsea Football Club since he was 14, but only now as Ajax --the club where he's on loan -- prepare to contest the Europa League final against Manchester United, has he finally found himself in the spotlight.
The forward was originally linked to the Premier League champions back in August 2010, with his signing only confirmed by the club in October 2013.
Like various other youngsters before him, he was underused by current United boss Jose Mourinho, and despite being given a taste of first team action under the Portuguese coach's successor Guus Hiddink last season, he was deemed surplus to requirements by Antonio Conte.
Yet Traore has set about demonstrating this season that he can influence matches and will be desperate to prove just how he can shape contests -- rather than just decorate them -- in Wednesday evening's final in Stockholm.
Across Europe, there are players who were spurned by Mourinho and Chelsea -- Kevin De Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku immediately spring to mind -- yet Traore, who holds no grudges against his former manager, has hinted this season that he's ready to challenge for a starting role at Stamford Bridge next term.
"I owe him a lot," Traore said earlier this week [as per the Telegraph]. "People would say that when he was there, I didn't play a lot, and I understand that, but when you are at a club like Chelsea, and results are not going well, it is hard to change the team and put young players in.
"He was the one who took me to pre-season at 17 for a trial, and gave me the opportunity to score goals," the West African added.
"Then he decided to give me a professional contract and send me on loan to [Dutch side Vitesse Arnhem].
"I had a great one-and-a-half years at Vitesse, and he called me back to the first-team squad and I got opportunities. For sure, I'll be happy to meet him in Stockholm.
"I'll give him a hug, I'm excited to see him, but I also have to score against him."
Certainly, Traore's performances this season have suggested that he can be an asset to his parent club, with Ajax imbuing him with a refined sense of technical and tactical prowess while rounding off some of his rougher edges.
The 21-year-old scored nine in the Eredivisie this season, dazzling in tandem with Morocco's Hakim Ziyech as Ajax finished runners-up to rivals Feyenoord.
He's been undaunted in Europe as well, netting against Panathinaikos, FC Kobenhavn and, notably, bagging two in the first-leg semifinal victory over Olympique Lyonnais.
He finished the Eredivisie season as the second most successful dribbler in the division, averaging three successful take-ons per match, and only two players in the league averaged more shots per game than the attacker.
Traore has excelled on the right-side of Ajax's front three in their famous 4-3-3 formation, but he's also impressed when called upon to lead the line. Versatility -- he was even drafted in at left-back for Chelsea last season -- is another quality that Conte ought to be acutely aware of.
In the Europa League, his ability with the ball at his feet also caught the eye -- Traore currently ranks in the top 10 in the competition for average dribbles per match -- and his clinical left-footed finishing ought to be no surprise for Chelsea, for whom he once scored two goals in his only two shots on target last season.
While Ajax, as a club, will be desperate to reassert themselves as bona fide European giants with a victory against United, it's natural that Traore will have extra incentive -- to prove to Conte (and Mourinho) that he has what he takes to establish himself back in West London next term.
Certainly, the powerful and pacey attacker is unequivocal about the fact that that's his ultimate aim.
"Chelsea is my club, and I always dreamed of playing for this club," he continued. "I want to win the cup and return, but I don't make the final decision.
"We will see what happens. When the season is finished I'll go back to Chelsea, and for sure we will have a chat."
Whether his progress continues at Chelsea or elsewhere, Traore is finally realising the potential that piqued the interest of the Pensioners when he was in his mid-teens. The wait for this precocious African wonderkid to reveal his true quality looks to be over.
Ed Dove is the Soccer Editor for KweséESPN. Follow him on Twitter @EddyDove.