Leader of Mali, Hamari Traore has taken a new stature at almost 30 years to guide his "Eagles" to the top, starting with the eighth final against Equatorial Guinea at the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON), Wednesday in Limbe.
"Humanly and athletically, I became someone else, I took another dimension, today I am captain of Rennes, captain of Mali, I won titles, I played in the Champions League," he said when recounting his youth memories. A technical and tireless right-back, Hamari Traore has come a long way from Niamakoro Cité Unicef, his childhood neighborhood in Bamako, the same as his teammate Moussa Djenepo.
"I entered the Jean-Marc Guillou Academy in Bamako at the age of 13," says the Malian captain. He played for the famous yellow and black Real de Bamako, the club linked to the JMG academy, but also that of the legend Salif Keita, then "at 19 and a half I joined Paris FC.
"Leaving far from my parents, my relatives, to fend for myself, I had only played in the Malian championship, the change was not easy," he says. "In addition, I never got injured, but now I have an ankle injury, ischios, adductors ... ", says Hamari Traore.
Pierre Ferracci, the president of the PFC, remembers very well. "We launched a partnership with the Academies of Jean-Marc Guillou, we had taken three Algerians and three Malians, Hamari is the only one we kept," he explains to AFP.
"He already had a lot of talent, but we also felt that he wanted to arrive, he showed a lot of desire. He crunched into it with full teeth," continues the manager. "Guillou also had a partnership with Lierse, he sent him there, I would have liked to keep him", he explains.
Pierre Ferracci remembers a player "unstoppable in his right flank, marked by the Guillou school, it is a very offensive lateral". The Parisian president added: "He is very attached to his roots, it is good that he is captain". He can't believe he's already turning 30 on January 27, the day after the 8th final.
Hamari Traoré then went to Lierse SK, a Belgian club that is also a partner of the JMG Academies. "I grew up there," says the player. "Lierse forged me, I became the player I am today". It was in Belgium that the Malian coach Alain Giresse (2015-2017) spotted him, and called him once he arrived in Reims, "a great pride" for Traore. "Hamari has asserted himself", ensures "Gigi", praising "his state of mind, his determination".
"He is a very good counter-attacker, but we can play with four players" and not only in a three-man defense with a role of piston in his lane, he said. He's also a model teammate. "I made him play on the left at the CAN-2017, he did me a favor, he accepted," said Giresse.
The CAN, precisely, has never really succeeded to Traore. "That of 2017 was a disappointment (elimination in the first round, NDLR)," he admits. "The second (2019), it was the new generation, most of the players discovered the tournament", stopped in the 8th final. "But since the team has grown".
He too has grown. Arrived in Reims in 2015, he burst the screen during a victory against Olympique de Marseille (1-0), just after the fractious resignation of Marcelo Bielsa. He scored a "great goal, a half-volley, for my first at Delaune, I made a good match, and a very good season".
The president Jean-Pierre Caillot asked him to stay another season, even in L2, but promised to "give him a release. He was very honest with me, he kept his word", Traoré admits, who is heading to Brittany, where he has become an executive.
"This is my fifth year at Stade Rennais, it's the first time I've stayed at a club for so long. I still have a year left on my contract, every player dreams of going to the big leagues, but we'll see. And then you have to deserve it," he says. And shine at the AFCON.