Burkina Faso is a country that holds a special place in my heart. The African country was a big part of my life during my early (and probably best) Football Manager days. In the 2007 instalment of the game I had an illustrious career at the head of German outfit, FC Kaiserslautern. In the heart of my defence was a certain Moussa Ouattara, a member of the Burkina Faso national team and, without a doubt, one of my best players. Sadly, in real life, his career trajectory didn’t mirror his successes in my game. He’s currently finishing his career in the fifth tier of German football.
The national team are intimidatingly nicknamed The Stallions and sit at 49th in the FIFA rankings, the seventh highest African nation. Until 1984 they played as Upper Volta but since the name change, they have become more of a recognised force within their continent. Despite never playing in a World Cup, they have qualified for the last five AFCONs, placing third in 2017 and second in 2013. Although Ouattara sadly never made it to the Premier League, there is one Burkinabe that has.
Bertrand Traore (Chelsea 2014-17)
In 2010, it was reported than Bertrand Traore had signed with Chelsea’s Academy. However, for some reason, it took the club almost a year-and-a-half to confirm that the youngster wasn’t a part of the club and never had been. Instead, he had made a single appearance for a youth team as a part of a six-week trial. Traore had subsequently failed the trial but finally, in late 2013, put pen to paper and was officially a part of Chelsea Football Club.
He was almost immediately shipped off to Vitesse in the Netherlands, which is often lovingly referred to as “Chelsea Reserves” or “Chelsea Under-23s”. The young attacker spent a season-and-a-half in the Eredivisie, scoring 16 goals in his 42 league appearances. He returned to Chelsea in 2015, having been granted a work permit and he was therefore eligible to play in England.
Traore had an underwhelming spell in England, making a string of appearances from the subs bench across all competitions, but never truly cementing his place in the side. It was clear that he was only an average understudy to Diego Costa and Chelsea had several other, more reliable, options. At the start of the 2016/17 campaign, he returned to Holland and joined Ajax on a season-long loan. He scored nine league goals in the season which was very up and down. The Ajax manager, Peter Bosz, who was also with Traore at Vitesse, openly criticised the player, stating that his form was “not good”. He played the full 90 minutes in the Europa League final, in which Ajax lost 2-0 to Manchester United.
When he returned to London it was decided that he was no longer needed and was sold to Lyon for around £9million. However, he must still have some ratings at Chelsea as they club are allowed first dibs on him, should Lyon want to sell. There could be a light at the end of the Premier League for him after all.
At just 22-years-old, Bertrand Traore has done an excellent job of racking up international caps. So far, he has won 42, and his seven goals have made him the countries eighth highest goal scorer since the name change. His older brother Alain is the second highest, just one goal away from the top spot.
Oman is another country that I’m quite fond of (today’s instalment is making me feel very nostalgic) as they were involved in the first ever international match I saw live. Australia beat Oman 4-0 in the group stages of the 2015 Asian Cup. The game is probably best remembered for Australia having a goal disallowed on the stroke of half-time, just so the referee could award them a penalty instead. Thankfully, more for the officials themselves than anyone, the resulting spot kick was scored and normal service was resumed.
Oman’s national team are ranked 120th in the world and as recently as March of this year, broke their biggest win record. It came in a qualifying game for the 2019 Asian Cup, when they destroyed Bhutan 14-0. Their highest honour, however, came when they won the Gulf Cup of Nations in 2009, as the host nation. Again, just one Premier League representative from Oman and it was a man I once ran into while shopping in Boots.
Ali Al-Habsi (Bolton Wanderers 2006-11, Wigan Athletic 2010-13)
Standing at almost two metres tall, Ali Al-Habsi posed as quite an intimidating figure between the sticks. His transfer to Bolton in 2006 was investigated in the Stevens enquiry, an investigation that looked into the level of corruption within football. Apparently, there was suspicions that the deal had a conflict of interests between Al-Habsi’s agent, Craig Allardyce and the Bolton manager, Sam Allardyce, Craig’s father. Big Sam being involved in corruption? Never!
Ali Al-Habsi made just 10 league appearances during his time with Bolton, acting as a backup to the first choice, Jussi Jaaskelainen. His biggest game came against Bayern Munich in the UEFA Cup in 2007. He made many quality saves to keep his side in it and rescue a point after a 2-2 draw. I’m not sure which is more unbelievable, the fact that Bolton got a point, or that they were even playing the German greats in the first place.
Al-Habsi joined Wigan Athletic on loan in 2010, before signing a permanent deal the following season. The fee was in the region of £4million and Wigan certainly got their money’s worth as he was a key player in their constant relegation battles. Eventually, not even Al-Habsi could save them and they faced the drop in 2013. The Omani international was eventually edged out of the team by young Spaniard, Joel Robles and he left to join Reading in 2015. The home of my university town, I’ve had the pleasure of watching him play many times and the even greater pleasure of meeting him while we were both shopping for hygiene products. He was loved by the Reading fans and was constantly picking up awards, including Player of the Year in both 2016 and 2017.
The current captain of the Omani national team, Al-Habsi has won 118 caps for his country which, unsurprisingly, makes him the highest capped player of all time.