The former Champions League player quickly has risen up the Sounders’ organization and is in his first season as their defensive specialist.
Djimi Traore’s gilded playing career, during which he won the European Champions League with Liverpool and represented the Malian national team, helps explain why the Sounders gave him a coaching shot.
But it doesn’t fully explain his quick rise up the organization’s food chain, from his post-retirement job as an S2 assistant last season to his new gig as a defensive specialist for the MLS team.
“It’s like your rèsumè,” Sounders coach Sigi Schmid explained this week. “Your rèsumè will help you get your foot in the door. But if you can’t do the job, you’re rèsumè doesn’t help you anymore.
Sounders vs. Montreal,
7 p.m., Ch. 13
“If what you do or what you tell them has no substance behind it, no player is going to say, ‘OK, fine.’ There are a lot of great players who have not been good coaches. Just because you’ve had great experiences, that doesn’t make you a good coach.”
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Traore certainly has packed plenty of noteworthy experiences into his 36 years.
Born in Saint-Ouen, France, the defender came up through Laval’s system in his native country before jumping directly to English powerhouse Liverpool.
He spent seven years on Merseyside, winning a Champions League medal in 2005 when he cleared AC Milan forward’s Andriy Shevchenko’s would-be game-winner off the line in the second half. Liverpool rallied from three goals down to win the title on penalty kicks, a comeback that is called the “Miracle of Istanbul.”
Traore bounced between England and France in the following years before joining the Sounders in 2013. He was slowly edged out of the rotation a year later, announcing his retirement at the end of the season before joining S2’s coaching staff.
“To be honest with you, I was a little bit surprised to get the role so fast,” Traore said of his new position. “But I’m pleased, because I can learn a whole lot. … I know where I want to go, what I want to do with coaching. So it’s a big opportunity. When I used to play, when I started young, it was a dream to play at the highest level as a professional. I did it, and now as a coach I want to do the same.”
He credits his transition year with the USL team as invaluable to his coaching development.
“It was a little bit tough in the first few weeks, because most of the guys on the first team are my friends,” Traore said. “I played with them. It’s very difficult to make a judgment on a player when you know his family. Now it’s different. Now I know what I need to know. It’s my job now.”
Traore’s role is something of a bridge of generations. He carries over his on-field bond with veterans such as Brad Evans and Chad Marshall and helps cultivate younger defenders such as Tony Alfaro. Traore said he serves as a conduit between the players and the senior coaching staff, a sounding board for his former teammates.
The fit is natural. Beneath his goofy nature always laid a dedicated student of the game.
“That’s something that developed later in my career, but it’s something coaches always said to me,” Traore said. “I’ve always been the guy talking to young players, because when I was young, veteran players always tried to take care of me.”
Though he played for a dozen or so coaches in his career, Traore struggles to single one out as a particular influence. He does vividly recall, however, the impact of Rafael Benitez’s arrival at Liverpool in 2004.
The Spaniard brought an attention to detail and fitness that was somewhat unconventional in the English Premier League. The experience taught Traore the value of a shake-up and the danger of complacency, and he views part of his job with Seattle as providing a unique voice and perspective.
“That’s a thing that I like about this staff,” Traore said. “Sigi is a very open guy, compared to other coaches. He wants to talk about everything. He’s open about new ideas and bringing in something different.
“First of all, I’m younger than all of them, so I bring my enthusiasm. I bring my energy. I bring my own ideas, from the way I grew up, from the culture I had as a French footballer.”