Very few 19-year-olds are linked with moves to Juventus and it’s even rarer that one from a struggling team is reportedly a target for the Serie A giants. With the Turin-based side focused on winning the Champions League, all eyes are on readymade stars.
Yet prior to Matthijs de Ligt’s move from Ajax, Juventus were reportedly looking to bring in Empoli’s Hamed Junior Traoré. With just a season of Italian top-flight football under his belt, the link came as a surprise.
It didn’t fit the current model the Old Lady of Italian football are using. However, Traore’s performances during the 2018/19 campaign meant he warranted the attention.
In June, Empoli president Fabrizio Corsi revealed a deal was close to completion.
“Will Traoré go to Juventus? The deal with them is in the pipeline,” he told TuttoMercatoWeb. “There are signatures missing but there’s a verbal agreement, everything is defined.”
It didn’t go quite as planned with Traoré instead joining Serie A side Sassuolo on a two-year loan with Juventus retaining their first option clause on the 19-year-old.
It’s a deal that works for all parties. Sassuolo have signed a game-changer. Traoré will receive valuable first-team minutes in Serie A. And Juventus have a free run at a potential star.
It's a situation which will allow the 19-year-old to play with a freedom not usually afforded to individuals. Instead of playing for a big move, Traoré has two years to do what he’s good with the knowledge Juventus are waiting in the wings to take him to Turin.
Sassuolo fans are in for a treat, too.
The Ivory Coast international is a one-man midfield. He can do it all. Deployed primarily as a centre midfielder in a 5-3-2 shape, Traoré impressed throughout the previous campaign. However, he came into his own in the final weeks with Empoli fighting for survival.
In the final six Serie A matches of the season, the teenager scored twice and assisted once;75 per cent of his goal involvements for the season came during this window.
Unfortunately for Gli Azzurri, both matches he scored in ended in defeat. A final day loss to Inter – a game which Traoré scored in – meant they were relegated to Serie B courtesy of goal difference.
However, the team's overall performance shouldn't detract from the displays of the box-to-box midfielder. Though not heavily involved in play, averaging just 36 passes per 90, it was Traoré's off the ball work that really caught the eye.
A tenacious presser, he would regularly smother the opposition, break things up and get Empoli moving. During his sole season in Serie A, Traoré averaged 3.4 interceptions and regained possession in the opposition's half on 5.51 occasions per 90.
He is also an offensive threat. Traoré has the ability to dance past players, attempting on average 5.32 dribbles and his expected goal contribution (goals and assists) per 90 averaged out at 0.22 last term.
Traoré averaged 0.12 second-assists, the pass before the actual assist, showing he's heavily involved in the final third action even if the general stats suggest otherwise.
The one-cap Ivory Coast international averaged three passes into the penalty area per 90, too. It shows he's progressive and incisive when in possession, an invaluable trait to have as a midfielder.
In many ways Traoré is similar to Tanguy Ndombele and Naby Keïta. Both are creative destroyers who are natural in possession, and both went for north of £50million despite being relatively inexperienced at the top level.
Traoré would be the next box-to-box midfielder to make a splash with Europe's elite. Even if Juventus don't make a move, other clubs will be lining up to sign him as they look to add their very own diminutive, playmaking ball fiend to their ranks.
A big season for Sassuolo could alert the masses. His loan will have gone unnoticed outside of Serie A but it could turn out to be one of the shrewdest moves of the 2019 summer window.