Adel Taarabt could have flourished in English football. The Moroccan midfielder joined Queens Park Rangers six years ago on loan from Tottenham, at 20 years of age. It was at the West London club where he would impose himself as one of the highest regarded talents in the English game, but a talent which would ultimately end up in anti-climax.
After two successful loan spells, Taarabt was signed on a permanent basis for QPR under new manager, Neil Warnock in 2010. He showed glimpses of promise in these loan spells, but ultimately not enough to convince Spurs to keep hold of him. But under Warnock, Taarabt would come alive, and light up Loftus Road week-in, week-out, achieving promotion in the most stylish of manners.
Warnock knew of Taarabt’s talent as soon as he joined QPR, as he says in his autobiography. Whilst taking control over his first training session, Adel stood out and Warnock knew he had to build a team around him. That he did. Giving Taarabt the captain’s armband at the age of just 21, and playing him in a free-role, Taarabt was a star in the making.
Each week he would produce a magic show for the audience with his unpredictable skill and his incredible ability to provide inspiration when a game lacked any creativity. Watching Taarabt in his prime was an experience which was truly sublime. In hindsight, he was the player that they had been crying out for.
He offered a throwback to the days of Rodney Marsh and Stan Bowles, a true maverick player, with an absolutely immense amount of flair. To see him glide around the pitch, nutmegging defenders for fun and finding the top corner from long distances, Taarabt was starting to look like a very special player.
He inevitably led QPR to the Premier League, winning the Championship in the process. Neil Warnock had managed to control the Moroccan magician, and channel his frustrations and ego into the most sublime of seasons. He couldn’t be stopped by any Championship defence, so he picked up 19 goals and a healthy amount of assists.
He also won the Championship Player Of The Season for his efforts, and looked destined for great things. Unfortunately for Taarabt though, this may have been the pinnacle of his career.
With Rangers promoted, speculation persisted on Taarabt’s future with the ex-Lens player being linked with moves to Spanish giants, Barcelona and Real Madrid. Although these claims were obviously untrue, they still managed to effect Taarabt. Poised to be Rangers’ hero in their first return to the top flight in 15 years, his underling attitude problems finally did get in the way of his superlative talent.
He was stripped of the captaincy, and it was given to the not so angelic Joey Barton. This upset Taarabt, and his discontent could be seen with his performances on the pitch. A disappointing welcome to the Premier League was epitomised in QPR’s 6-0 thrashing of Fulham at Craven Cottage, where Taarabt was subbed at half-time and decided to take the bus home, whilst his teammates went through a gruelling second half.
Towards the second half of the season, he fell out of favour as Mark Hughes took helm at Loftus Road, scoring just 2 goals as Rangers stayed up after ‘that’ final day at the Etihad. It was so frustrating, to see a player who had the opportunity to be so influential on English football, play such a background part to the system. With their survival though, Adel had another chance to prove himself in the top flight.
In a poorly assembled side, Taarabt did impose himself a little bit more and at times, he showed glimpses of nostalgia, with a superb goal against West Ham accompanied by the highlight of his Premier League stay: A brace against Fulham which gave Rangers a belated first win of the season. He also gave encouraging performances, winning Man of the Match at Stamford Bridge for their 1-0 win over bitter rivals, Chelsea.
There was still hope for his future at this point and he was showing his best form since the Championship, but things soon dwindled completely out of control. Not just for him, but for QPR too. With their team of overpaid mercenaries, Rangers finished bottom of the league, and Taarabt didn’t fancy a return to the second tier of the English game.
So, he made the short journey across West London to Fulham, where he would largely disappoint once more. Making 12 appearances and not netting a single Premier League goal, many suggested that he was not the player that he was once crowned to be. He had been given enough chances to prove himself at the top flight, and with his clear ability that he showed he may well have been able to make it if he hadn’t have been so egoistic and hadn’t had such a blinding attitude problem.
After the promotion winning campaign of 2011, Taarabt spoke of how he thought he should be playing for a European giant and three years later, he got his wish. Signing for AC Milan on loan, Taarabt would show just what he could have done in England. An impressive stint came for the Rossoneri, and an introduction to the Champions League left a strong impression on the fan base in Italy.
Whilst he impressed in Milan, QPR once again got promoted – this time without Taarabt. Winning the play-off final, Rangers were back to the big time. Taarabt returned to QPR for pre-season, and could not muster a permanent move away, as clubs were unwilling to pay the money based on his previous issues. The transfer window drew to a close, and the R’s faithful had hope again, when Taarabt came on for a few minutes in their third game of the season, a 1-0 victory over Sunderland.
After that, Taarabt disappeared into the wilderness (again). Nothing was heard of the Moroccan until Harry Redknapp made his infamous unprofessional and stupid rant in a post-match conference following their 3-2 defeat to Liverpool at Loftus Road. Claiming that Taarabt was ‘overweight’ and ‘not fit to play football.’
Taarabt then retaliated by going to the press to prove that he wasn’t overweight. It was such a typical QPR thing to happen, it resembled a slapstick comedy show, and the inability to control the midfielder was embarrassing on Redknapp’s part, and it was evident that Taarabt’s future at QPR was coming to a close.
In January, Taarabt enjoyed two appearances from the bench under Redknapp, but these appearances didn’t really produce anything, and were probably just to put him in the shop window. As soon as Redknapp left the club, Taarabt started his first game of the season in Ramsey’s interim match. A 60 minutes encouraged fans that he might have another chance under the new gaffer.
Once more, Rangers would be disappointed with Taarabt’s turnout. At times, the club were desperate for some creativity, and with Charlie Austin’s goals, Taarabt’s supply could have been vital for their survival chances. His only 90 minutes came in an embarrassing 3-1 defeat at Selhurst Park, and after that – just a 13 minute cameo at home to Everton came, and this would turn out to be his farewell to QPR.
His future was uncertain following their relegation, but the chances of him staying at the club were painfully slim. Last week, though, his future was confirmed. His contract was mutually terminated, and he joined Portuguese giants Benfica on a free transfer. His six year journey with the blue and white hoops had come to an end. It was an inevitable end to what was a disappointing stay in Shepherd’s Bush.
There were many highs at Loftus Road, but there were also far too many lows. He was one of, if not the, most gifted player I have ever had the pleasure to watch. As he embarks on his new chapter in Lisbon, it’s hard not to get the overwhelming sense that it has been a disappointing career so far. At the age of 26, however, Taarabt still has time to prove the footballing world wrong, and he still has the potential to go far