The 17-year-old has already made Serie A history this season, with the likes of Manchester United, Arsenal and Juventus now keen on signing him
Few, if any, clubs in the modern football landscape are universally loved. There is always a group of supporters somewhere with a vendetta, however trivial, that will attempt to dismiss the success of a team they paint as evil in some way.
It is testament to Atalanta, then, that they have been able to first capture the hearts of the vast majority of Italian fans in recent years before taking their show on the road in 2019-20 to become a team few in Europe want to miss in action thanks to their thrilling style of play.
While their first team are thriving, though, there is arguably an even more impressive project bubbling under the surface in Bergamo, with the previously unfashionable side beginning to produce some of the very best young players in Italy on a regular basis.
Last season their Primavera side, or Under-19s, were crowned national champions for the first time in 21 years. The star of that team, playmaker Dejan Kulusevski, joined Juventus in a €35 million (£30m/$39m) deal in January.
Before the coronavirus-enforced shutdown in Italy brought an end to proceedings, back-to-back titles were very much on the cards. La Dea sit three points clear at the top of the Primavera 1 standings with at least one game in hand on their closest challengers and having lost just one league match all season.
The likes of Roberto Piccoli, Alessandro Cortinovis and Caleb Okoli have all done their chances of earning first-team opportunities no harm, but there is one player who is attracting widespread interest.
Amad Traore is already a Serie A history-maker.
Having stepped off the bench to make his Atalanta debut in the final 13 minutes from the end of October’s meeting with Udinese, he picked up the ball around 40 yards from goal before driving forward and unleashing a 20-yard shot from the edge of the area to put the seal on his side’s stunning 7-1 victory.
In doing so, Traore became the youngest player, at 17 years and 109 days old, to score on their Serie A bow, as well as the first player born in 2002 to find the net in the Italian top flight.
“I don’t know what to say. I could have slapped myself – it was my childhood dream,” he told the club’s website in the aftermath. “During the game, I prayed and prayed to come on.
“I said to myself that I chose to do this job, so why should I be afraid? I have to thank the coach for the trust and myself for paying it back.”
Traore’s explosive start to his professional career brought to an end the first chapter of a life that began in the Ivorian city of Abidjan, though he moved to Italy when very young.
His father remained behind in his homeland to continue running a football school, leaving Traore and brother Hamed Junior to grow up under the watch of their mother in the small town of Bibbiano in the northern Emilia-Romagna region.
The Traore brothers were hooked on football and were quickly registered to play for local amateur club Boca Barco, though the family’s relative poverty meant they arrived for their first training session barefoot.
“They came here with little more than the clothes they wore,” recalls Enzo Guerri, the editor of local newspaper Gazzetta di Reggio.
Once he was fully kitted out, Amad quickly began making an impact on the pitch. At a Christmas tournament in 2014 he was named the competition’s best player, after finishing as top scorer with 12 goals despite being the youngest player taking part.
Former AC Milan and Napoli goalkeeper Giovanni Galli, who knew the brothers’ guardian, took notice and offered the siblings to chance to train with lower league side Lucchese, where he was coaching at the time.
“A friend I had made humanitarian trips with told me about them,” Galli revealed. “He told me they were good, so I took them for two days to Lucchese.
“After the first training session, I told him that they had nothing to do with Lucchese. These two were superior. They drove the older players crazy. So, I made a round of calls.”
Those calls earned Hamed Junior a place in Empoli‘s academy, and last season he enjoyed a breakthrough campaign in Serie A before joining Sassuolo in the summer, where the midfielder has continued to develop.
Amad, meanwhile, had trials with Juventus, Milan and Inter before famed talent scout Mino Favini brought him to Bergamo.
Despite only being 13 when he joined Atalanta, Traore was immediately promoted to the U-15s side and helped them claim the Scudetto in his first season. He continued to play above his age group and, at 16, was part of the side which won the Primavera title in 2019.
His performances at youth level earned him a place in Gian Piero Gasperini’s senior squad for their pre-season training camp and, having been given some minutes in their various friendly matches, he left enough of a mark to remain part of the first team ahead of his headline-grabbing debut against Udinese.
“He plays like Messi,” joked Atalanta captain Papu Gomez when asked about the youngster, who has admitted to watching videos of the Barcelona No.10 for inspiration. “To stop him in training, we have to kick him!”
Some players would rest on their laurels after such an arrival on the scene, but that is not in Traore’s character. The very next day he insisted he play in the Primavera Supercoppa final against Fiorentina. That wish was granted as he provided the assists for both goals in Atalanta’s 2-1 win.
He has made just two further Serie A appearances since making his debut, though he has regularly been an unused substitute, with Gasperini certainly not looking to make mass alterations to his team during the most successful period in their history.
Consequently, Traore – who played as a No.10 in his younger years before reverting to the right wing – has been allowed to continue developing with the U-19s, for whom he has contributed seven goals and 11 assists in 24 outings this term.
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His fine form has seen him linked with the likes of Manchester United, Arsenal, Juventus and Manchester City, with the latter already familiar with just how good the teenager can be after he shone in both of their UEFA Youth League meetings in the autumn.
Despite the interest of some of the game’s grandest clubsb , the next step for Traore is to establish himself as a Serie A regular, while he will also become eligible to represent Italy at international level when he imminently obtains citizenship.
From there, the sky is seemingly the limit for a 17-year-old who is leading a golden generation of talent emerging from the neutrals’ favourite club in Italy.