Adel Taarabt: The show-pony in London turned happy workhorse in Lisbon

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Adel Taarabt Forgotten Men
Reza Alfian Maulana

There is a moment in the 44th minute of the Champions League quarter final first leg between Benfica and Liverpool, where Adel Taarabt, midway inside his own half, takes a clearance, spins deftly into space and fires a lovely floated through ball for Rafa Silva to sprint through.

It did not result in a goal, as Silva blazed over under pressure, and it did not prevent Benfica from losing the match and ultimately the pulsating two-legged tie - but it does show how there still remains that trickster dog within Taarabt that thrilled English football fans years ago.

Taarabt made his name at QPR as one of the most thrilling players of the early 2010s, with a penchant for a mazy dribble and an eye for a thunderous wondergoal. These days, however, he is to be found patrolling the defensive midfield zones for Portuguese giants - a career change few who watched him in west London would have seen coming.

With Taarabt, the rough often comes alongside the smooth - and although in the past a lack of fitness and application have been a regular occurrence, he struggled mightily across the two legs against Liverpool because their midfield three and wide attackers dragged him hither and thither.

It was a turning of tables for Taarabt. Certainly those who watched the Championship between 2009 and 2011 will remember that it was he who would have opposition defenders and midfielders on a string.

Taarabt was only 17 when he moved to English football from Lens, initially on loan in January 2007 before a permanent transfer that summer.

Having starred for his family's adopted home nation of France at youth level, it was something of a coup for a Spurs side, at that time floating closer to mid-table, to secure his signature - and it was one Taarabt would later say he regretted.

Adel Taarabt Benfica

He told talkSPORT: “I signed for Spurs because when I was in France, for us, we were watching the Premier League but it was the top four. Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea, and Liverpool.

“But to me it was almost all done that I would go to Arsenal and then after Damien Comolli, who was working at [Tottenham], convinced me to come.

“At that time I was playing at France Under-17s and I could have gone to all the big three in any leagues."

Taarabt struggled to break into the Spurs first team picture under either Juande Ramos or Harry Redknapp, so in March 2009 was allowed to sign for QPR, initially on loan. This was where the fun began.

A goal Taarabt scored on October 1, 2009 against Preston in the Championship sums up just why he electrified audiences - taking down a skewed goal kick on the touchline around half way,  he swivels, beats three men in a jinking run, before slamming into the top corner from 25 yards.

It is a wonder goal in its purest form, a mixture of individual skill and long-range finishing. And it wasn't even until the following season that Taarabt hit the high point of the first half of his career.

In 2010-11, Taarabt scored 19 goals and provided 21 assists in 44 Championship fixtures as Neil Warnock's QPR steamrolled their way to the second-tier title. Having been signed permanently for just £1 million from Spurs, he was named the league's player of the season - an accolade absolutely no-one could argue with.

This should have been the platform for Taarabt to spring into Premier League stardom, however a turbulent summer turned his head and he was never quite the same again in English football.

He was linked with moves throughout the summer, revealing 10 years later how close he came to a switch to PSG.

Asked if he was ready to sign for the French champions ahead of the 2011-12 season, Taarabt told GOAL in 2021: "Yes, after my season when I got promoted, yes, it was all done.

"I was speaking with Nasser [Al-Khelaifi] and we were together but he told me we had to wait because Leonardo will be arriving from Inter, but it didn't happen because of fees. I was already in Paris waiting."

With his mind elsewhere, Taarabt failed to shine in the Premier League, scoring only twice in 27 games during 2011-12 as QPR only avoided relegation on the final day. He slightly improved the following campaign with five goals and five assists from 33 league games, but it was not enough for them to evade the drop this time.

All was not well behind the scenes either - Redknapp, the man who sold Taarabt from Spurs, had taken over as QPR manager. The club spent wildly and erratically in an attempt to stave off relegation, and their former talisman was not shy about making his opinions heard.

Adel Taarabt Harry Redknapp

Taarabt said: "Half the players at QPR didn’t care about the club, they were just making money. I had one of the bigger salaries but I cared about football because I loved football.

“When I came for pre-season I told Redknapp to his face, ‘This team is going down’. He said the same thing as me, that he agreed with me.

"I don’t think he [Redknapp] has the passion for the game like people think. Harry is not a bad person but he is a very bad coach and, for me, a very bad manager.”

Thus began Taarabt's nomadic years. Loan spells at Fulham and AC Milan, a fleeting return to QPR where Redknapp criticised his fitness, before a €4m switch to Benfica whereupon he failed to play a single first team minute for a season and a half, and was loaned to Genoa for 18 months.

Since early 2019 however, things have changed. The coach of Benfica B, Bruno Lage, was put in charge of the first team, and took Taarabt with him. Now the other side of 30, he was deployed as the elder statesman anchoring the midfield while the young bucks, including a certain Darwin Nunez, caused havoc up top.

He told The Athletic of his new role:  “It’s a different area, where you cannot risk so much. In England I was free, and the only thing asked of me was to create. Now I work on both sides, trying to create and defend as well.

"I have to be very disciplined. I don’t arrive around the box, I do get there, but I am more the third-last pass. It is more about making the team play."

And so Taarabt enters the final stage of his career a calmer figure than that which most will recognise or remember. But as that one pass proved, true entertainers never quite lose that knack.

You can check in on more of GOAL's Forgotten Men here.

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