Everton boss Roberto Martinez has been praised, quite rightly, for his summer transfer dealings. The former Wigan manager wasn’t shy to turn to the market during his maiden months in the Toffees hotseat and his pre-season acquisitions helped the Blues to enjoy a strong start.
Romelu Lukaku, signed on loan from Chelsea, has provided pace and power up front, Gareth Barry has brought stability and maturity as a screen ahead of the defence, while Gerard Deulofeu, a third loanee, brought in from Barcelona, has glistened when afforded opportunities.
The quartet brought from Martinez’s Wigan side, Joel, Antolin Alcaraz, Arouna Kone and James McCarthy, have, perhaps, been slightly less impressive, but injuries have certainly played their part here. McCarthy, in particular, looks set to be a big part of the club’s future.
During the recent January transfer window, the Spaniard again looked to increase his personnel options. Aiden McGeady was brought in from Spartak Moscow to supplement the squad’s wide options, while Lacina Traore was recruited on loan from Monaco until the season’s close.
This article explores why the latter will be a major hit on Merseyside.
The first thing you notice about Lacina Traore, and indeed, the first thing anyone points out when referencing the player, is his size. While here at Bleacher Report we are never keen to jump on a bandwagon and follow the crowd, in this particular situation, when advocating a player’s qualities in the Premier League context, it seems like a reasonable time to celebrate his physical profile.
Like Crouch, at least when he played in the international arena with England, Traore’s mere presence is often enough to unsettle defences. Even the most composed and powerful centre-back may well find himself unnerved by the prospect of a man much taller than him bustling forward and attempting to meet high balls and win aerial contests.
However, while Crouch often struggled to use his natural advantage in the air to his benefit—often opting to attempt some kind of acrobatic scissor kick as the ball dropped, rather than rising to meet it—Traore largely succeeds in perturbing defenders and making the visible advantage a tangible difference. Heading remains a weakness, but as a physical menace, Traore exceeds the Stoke City forward.
Everton are currently blessed with some fine and effective wide players. Kevin Mirallas is in the Premier League Top 15 for Accurate Crosses per Game (via Whoscored.com) and his quality is supplemented by that of Leighton Baines, Seamus Coleman and Steven Pienaar. McGeady should also be an astute addition here and is the kind of player who could ease Traore’s integration into the Premier League, helping him forage some goals in the process.
In this respect, his aerial menace and the physical impact he can have as the spearhead of a side is not wholly dissimilar to Christian Benteke circa 2012-13 or even the man he will be understudying on Merseyside, Lukaku. The finest comparison we can draw here though, is probably Didier Drogba, the iconic Ivorian forward who stands ahead of Traore in the national team set-up.
While, ostensibly, his height and frame are most similar to Crouch, his potential impact could actually be far closer to that of Drogba.
Like the former Chelsea hero, Traore has impressive technical prowess and an explosive turn of pace. This is not some kind of Ivorian Duncan Ferguson (although Dunc, if you’re reading this, no offence), a bullish target man who will intimidate and outmuscle for the benefit of the team. Nor is he an Elephantine Emile Heskey, slogging and labouring to make space for nimbler, more effective colleagues.
Like Drogba, Traore also possesses a fairly temperamental streak, and isn't adverse to causing his fair share of controversy, as explored here by Michael Yokhin of ESPN. The nature of this deal, however, should mean that this isn't an issue for Everton.
Traore has an explosive shot, a sure first touch and, should he be required to play in a slightly deeper role, perhaps in support of a striker, his passing ability is adequate enough for this role. Last season, Everton fans witnessed Marouane Fellaini thriving as an attacking midfielder behind a sole frontman. Ideally, Traore would rather play slightly further forward than this, but if this is an aspect of Martinez’s vision for his new recruit, then Blues fans should be encouraged.
A further factor that should help him make the most of the coming four months is his desire and appetite to make the most of the opportunity afforded to him. In principle, this might not necessarily be the case; loanees aren’t always the most motivated of squad members, and to leave Russia for the glamour of Monaco, only to be sent off directly to Everton might not appeal to everyone.
The allure of Walton doesn’t quite match up to the glitz of the Riviera—trust me on that!
However, there are two key reasons why Traore might well have the appetite for such a move. First of all, the striker has previously made no secret of his desire to one day play in the Premier League. Admittedly, it might have been the dissatisfaction of life at Anzhi Makhachkala talking, but Traore has courted interest from EPL sides in the past, notably Liverpool and Arsenal, and may well see this period at Everton as a golden opportunity to sell himself to potential employers further down the line.
Secondly, the imminent World Cup will surely be another factor that ought to motivate Traore to do his absolute best to succeed at Goodison Park.
The striker has been ever-present in the Elephants’ national side over the last year, but while he has never missed a call-up, his playing time has been limited. Of the nation’s last 16 games, he has started only four, come on as a substitute in a further three and remained on the bench for nine. Despite his impressive four goals, he has been largely unable to improve his minutes.
Wilfried Bony, who has started five and come off the bench on three occasions during that time period, looks to be slightly ahead of him in the pecking order at the moment, but neither man will fancy the prospect of the major tournament passing them by without receiving an adequate chance to impress.
Traore should be hugely motivated to star for Everton over the coming months. If he can do so, than this might help him displace Bony in the national hierarchy and earn some playing time on the grandest stage of all. If he cannot make an impact on Merseyside, then he may well allow the competition to overtake him.
As part of a broader narrative, the battle to eventually replace Didier Drogba as the figurehead of the Cote d’Ivoire looks set to become a succession narrative every bit as gripping as that recorded in the books of Samuel and Kings.
In this three-way tussle between Seydou Doumbia, Wilfried Bony and Traore, can any ground afford to be lost?
These qualities, both physical and mental, should mean that Traore is a valuable asset for the People’s Club during their arduous Premier League run-in. Everton have been flagging in recent weeks; the defeat to Tottenham Hotspur, unjust as it was, comes, worryingly, on the back of a devastating defeat to local rivals Liverpool.
In the race for the top four, Everton have lost considerable momentum and needed an injection of something, something new, something fresh, to remain in contention.
In Lacina Traore, they may just have it.