PATRICK BAMFORD has played with some gifted footballers in his career. As a trainee at Chelsea, he was able to watch the likes of Frank Lampard, Juan Mata and Eden Hazard strutting their stuff in training. When he played with Crystal Palace, he was on the same team as Yannick Bolasie and Wilfried Zaha. Even at Middlesbrough, he spent last season trying to learn from Alvaro Negredo.

When he looks across to the opposite touchline at Sunderland’s Stadium of Light this afternoon, though, he will see a player who trumps all of them when it comes to natural ability.

Yes, Adama Traore might infuriate. Yes, he might switch off every now and then, failing to track back as his manager, Tony Pulis, demands. Every now and then, he takes the wrong option, and his tally of three goals from 56 senior appearances in a Middlesbrough shirt is a desperately poor return for a player of his talent.

But that still shouldn’t detract from the frisson of excitement that even the 22-year-old’s team-mates feel whenever he gets onto the ball.

Traore is a player that makes things happen, and it is hard to imagine that Sunderland’s defenders have been able to get too much sleep this week as they have pondered how best to handle the Spaniard.

Get too close, and he will spin past you in an instant. Stand off too far, and you are inviting him to turn and run. On Tuesday, Traore was all but unplayable as he helped set up two of Middlesbrough’s goals in their 3-1 win over Hull City. If he plays in the same manner today, Sunderland’s already miserable season could be about to get a whole lot worse.

“In terms of physical ability and technical talent, I honestly think he’s probably the best player I’ve been in a team with,” said Bamford, who enjoyed something of a return to form himself on Tuesday as he claimed his first goal since early December. “His pace, his power and his strength are exceptional.

“But he’s only young and he’s still got a lot to learn. He just needs to work out the other side of the game – not necessarily the defensive side, but he can still switch off when he doesn’t have the ball. The team might have it, but if he’s not in possession, he needs to make sure he’s still completely switched on.

“His talent is incredible though, and he must be so hard to play against. You never know what he’s going to do, if I’m honest. You could be stood free in acres of space, and he takes 25 touches and you don’t get the ball, or he could have about five men around him and beat them all to lay it on a plate.”

The Northern Echo:

Traore’s unpredictability is one of his greatest strengths, but it has also counted against him during his career. Aitor Karanka had a love-hate relationship with the winger, praising him to the hilt and promoting him to the first team in one instant, then criticising him publicly and casting him out of the first-team squad in another.

If anything, Garry Monk was even more suspicious of Traore’s occasional lack of application, and his obvious distrust of the winger seemed to fuel even more errors. There was the reckless sending off at Aston Villa, followed by the clumsy penalty concession that resulted in a 1-0 home defeat to Cardiff City. Traore, Monk appeared to conclude, was an accident waiting to happen.

When Pulis was appointed as Monk’s successor, it was assumed that yet another nail would be hammered into Traore’s coffin. Boro’s new boss does not exactly suffer fools, and his perceived love of direct football hardly tallied with the style Traore had been adopting throughout his time on Teesside.

Yet ‘direct football’ does not necessarily mean ‘long ball’, and it is hard to imagine anyone getting from A to B more quickly than Traore.

His relationship with Pulis might be akin to that of the ‘odd couple’, and earlier this week, the Boro boss admitted he was worried he might be getting into trouble with his wife because he was waking up in a hot sweat, calling out Traore’s name in his sleep.

The Northern Echo:

Yet the hugely-experienced manager appears to have concluded that the tearaway winger is worth the worry, and he is not the only one trying to coax Traore around.

“There are still little things he can work on,” said Bamford. “And I try to take him to the side sometimes to have a little chat.

“I know the gaffer does, and I know the players do too. We all want to help him, because we know he good he could be. And as you can see, he’s already bloody good anyway.”