Former Melbourne Victory favourite Adama Traore insists he still “feels Australian” despite scaling new career peaks with Portuguese high-flier Vitoria Guimaraes and this month winning a national team call-up for Cote d’Ivoire.
Naturalised as a citizen eight months ago – Traore's dream of playing for the Socceroos was strangled by FIFA eligibility rules in 2013 because he had already represented Cote d'Ivoire at youth level before becoming an Australian.
One door closed and another re-opened, with the flying left-back a part of the Cote d'Ivoire squad which qualified this week for next year's Africa Cup of Nations after a 0-0 draw against 10-man Cameroon, which saw both teams abandon all attacking ambition in stoppage time with a point suiting each of them.
While cock-a-hoop at being part of a select group including thoroughbreds like Manchester City's Yaya Toure, Roma's Gervinho, Swansea's Wilfried Bony and Liverpool's Kolo Toure, Traore retains a lasting affection for the country which he says gave him his chance to propel himself into Europe where his new club is in second spot behind Benfica and ahead of Primeira Liga powerhouse Porto.
Traore, 24, has already racked up 10 appearances, featuring the trademark bursts down the left which won him the ardour of Victory fans before his departure after two seasons and 51 games last May.
"I have only great memories of Victory as a club and Australia as a country and I watch as many of their games as I can online and keep in touch with some of the boys - I am willing them on to hopefully win the title this season," said Traore, who burst on the A-League scene at now defunct Gold Coast United in 2009 before joining Victory in 2012.
"The coaching of Ange and later Kevin Muscat and the players around me during my two years there helped me develop into a player able to make the move to Europe, which has always been a big ambition of mine.
"I also can't forget the faith that Miron Bleiberg (Gold Coast coach) put in me as an 18 year old, giving me freedom to express my football week in week out.
"I have so many great memories of them and Australia - and a lot to be grateful for. When I became a citizen, it was a lot more than a piece of paper to me - I treasure being an Australian, even though I am now thousands of kilometres away in a new country.
"Vlado (Bozinoski, Traore's representative), myself and the FFA did everything we could to be eligible to play for Australia but it wasn't to be and now I am so happy to have the chance to play international football again for my home country."
Traore didn't make an appearance in this month’s 5-1 win over Sierra Leone or the draw with Cameroon, which was greeted by a wild pitch invasion at full time with one supporter stealing Gervinho's shorts.
"It was pretty chaotic at the end there with fans rushing on the field to celebrate our qualification and being a part of that squad was a privilege," Traore said.
"When you train with so many high class players you can only learn and improve and that's what I strive to do every session and every game."
Though Vitoria Guimaraes won the Portuguese Cup in 2013, it has yet to win a Primeira crown but is making a charge this season and is two points adrift of Benfica.
"While it's always felt special playing for a club as big as Melbourne Victory, I knew I had to come to Europe to take another step in my career," he said.
"I think I've settled in well … the players are more technical, more alert and craftier than the A-League and it's making me better and probably a little sharper on the ball.
"We have big ambitions as a club and I couldn't be happier in Portugal. It's a new experience, a new adventure. But I always think about Australia."
Traore credits part of his rapid progress since signing for Vitoria Guimaraes in June to one-time Socceroos midfielder Bozinoski, who now also resides in Portugal.
"He has helped me improve so many aspects of my game and it's been a big factor for me,” he said.
"Back in the A-League, I remember certain games been awarded man of the match and thinking I had played very well but when Vlado and I would discuss the game he would still find a number of things I could improve on.
"I always listened, pushed and challenged myself every week to be better. I knew what Vlado was teaching me was important - but I can apreciate now at another level the finer details we worked on over the years."
Bozinoski said: "Adama has so many positives about him, on and off the field and is so keen to learn all the time.
"We go over DVDs of his games and we look at the opponents each week and I try and help with the things that can make a difference in his game."
"You get out what you put in and Adama certainly is an example of this."