5 Minutes With... Lacina Traore

Tall, fast and good on the ball, his physical presence made him hard to miss when he ws playing football on the streets of Abidjan as a 17-year-old. It was there where he was discovered by CFR Cluj president Iuliu Muresan, after spending time at the well-known ASEC Mimosas academy; established by Jean-Marc Guillou, who was a close friend of Arsene Wenger. The academy has produced a host of Ivorian talent over the years, including players like Yaya and Kolo Toure, Emmanuel Eboue, and Gervinho. Unlike many other successful students, he was never directly offered to a European team, which allowed CFR Cluj to step in and pick him up for next to nothing. His brother Lajo is also a professional footballer in Lithuania, where he plays for FK Riteriai, after initially being brought over to CFR Cluj by Lacina. I used to tell them ‘guys, it is even hotter here in Krasnodar than in some parts of Africa!’” Located on the Black Sea coast, that particular area of Russia actually enjoys a humid subtropical climate. “My best football was in Russia with FC Kuban Krasnodar.” Traore had a very decent few years in Russia, notching 31 goals in 67 appearances for both Krasnodar and then Anzhi Makhachkala, where he formed a fruitful partnership with another former Everton striker – Samuel Eto’o; most notably scoring a glorious lobbed goal against Liverpool in Anzhi’s 1-0 win in the Europa League. It was late in injury time when former Tottenham striker Roman Pavlyuchenko struck adevastating equaliser for Lokomotiv, only for Traore to dramatically fall to the floor moments later in the penalty area, under a supposed challenge from another former Spurs player,VedranCorluka. Most onlookers were stunned to see the ref point to the spot, but as it happened, Samuel Eto’o went on to miss the spot-kick, justice was done, in most people’s eyes.Traorewasalso sent off in a Europa League game, getting a second yellow card for diving. Traore then devastatingly went on to tear his hamstring in the warm-up, and would not be seen again in a blue shirt until the final game ofthe season against Hull, coming on as a late substitute. I still dream of returning to the Premier League, I still believe in it.” Traore, at the time, was an exotic solution to Everton’s striking shortage, following the long term injury to Arouna Kone and the departure of Nikica Jelavic. Roberto Martinez told the Liverpool Echo at the time: ‘Lacina is someone we really believe can bring something different to the team and he is someone we will try to see if we can get an opportunity to sit down and see what isthe next chapter.’ That extension never developed, Traore returned to Monaco and would then go on to make a number of moves around Europe, with stopovers in France, Spain, Russia, Hungary and back to where it all began in Romania, where he is back in a CFR Cluj shirt. Still only 30 years of age, after a somewhat nomadic career, I asked what has been the highlight so far? “I would say when I scored my first goal for Everton against Swansea, it was a very big moment for me, one that I could never forget.” I asked Traore how he found working under Roberto Martinez, a manager who divides opinion between Evertonians. “For me, Roberto Martinez is a very good coach, but that is football – you cannot please everyone.” Traore was back amongst the headlines in 2018, in a remarkable story in which he was accused of having changed his name and age many years ago by Ibrahim Kone. The President of Etoile Sportive d’Abobo claimed that Traore had played for his club many years ago under a different name and with a different date of birth.