Neil Warnock: Adel Taarabt is difficult – I had to put up with his antics to get QPR promotion – but he’s grown up and may just be perfect for AC Milan

Adel always believed he would play for a really big European club

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The Independent Football

A few eyebrows have been raised at Adel Taarabt joining Milan. Having worked with Adel for two years, I am not as surprised as most people seem to be. He is a player of immense ability and, if he is handled right, and motivated himself, he can win games at any level.

When I arrived at Queen’s Park Rangers I was told he’d get me the sack, but I looked at his talent and realised he could win us promotion. He’s wonderful on the ball, really gifted technically and with a great eye for a pass, but he doesn’t contribute much off it. I realised I had to design the team around him and get the senior players, excellent professionals like Shaun Derry and Clint Hill, to accept Adel wouldn’t do some of the things they thought a team-mate should do, like track back and so on. But as I said to them, he could do things no one else could and if they accepted that we would all play in the Premier League.

I had also to accept things which in my younger days I would not have stood for – like Adel throwing tantrums on the pitch and going missing when he should have been training. Once he rang up claiming to be in France, having lost his passport. Then the police rang us to say they’d found his passport – in Cambridgeshire. It certainly wasn’t easy dealing with him, but it was all worth it as we won the Championship title.

I saw Adel last week at Bramall Lane, where I was covering Fulham’s FA Cup fourth-round tie with Sheffield United for BT Sport. He was on the bench, as he has been much of the season. I said: “Can you remember what I said to you, ‘You’ll never play for another manager like me – no one else would let you get away with things like I did’? He said, ‘You were right, gaffer’.”

After the game – he came on as sub and looked Fulham’s biggest threat – he saw me in the tunnel and gave me his shirt, which was a nice gesture. It turned out to be the last Fulham shirt he wore.

I was touched, too, when my phone beeped late Thursday night and it was a text from Adel. He had just signed for Milan. “Thank you Gaffer. I never forget what you do for me. I will do my best. Speak soon.”

I am delighted for Adel and hope it works out for him in Milan. He always believed he would play for a really big European club and would have joined Paris Saint-Germain after we won promotion if the clubs had been able to agree a fee.

I think he has grown up a lot now so the timing might be right for him to move, and the slower pace of the game in Italy will suit him. Clarence Seedorf, the new coach, was a fabulous player; it will be interesting to see how he handles Adel – and how Adel links up with Mario Balotelli, his new team-mate.

It wasn’t me turning the air blue at the Lane this time

It was a strange afternoon being back at Bramall Lane, where I managed for seven years. It brought back floods of memories, but also made me realise where the club are now. When I left we’d just been relegated from the Premier League but, with the parachute payments, and the money coming from West Ham after the Tevez affair, were well placed to bounce back quickly. Now they’re fighting to stay in League One.

That didn’t show on the day. The crowd were up for it, as I thought they’d be, and the players responded and did really well. Even with 10 men I thought Sheffield were the more likely winners and they won’t roll over at Craven Cottage on Tuesday.

But, talking to Nigel Clough after the game, I think he realises this season is all about surviving. The Cup is great – and playing so well against a Premier League team will be a massive boost to their confidence, but the priority is to stay up.

The ground staff did ever so well to get the match on after unbelievable rain and Andre Marriner’s decision to play was justified by a cracking game.

Some of his other decisions were less popular, though, and I did have my doubts when BT told us where to stand just after the game so the players all came past us on camera. They put Owen Hargreaves, Jake Humphreys and myself right by the referee’s room. I checked with the director but he said: “It’ll be OK”. Then I said to Owen: ‘Just wait, it’ll be lively here. He’s turned down a stonewall pen that would have won the game at one end, and one that would have led to the goalkeeper being sent off at the other.”

Sure enough, the air was blue, with officials from both clubs letting off steam. Fortunately, I don’t think it was really picked up on air. The camera crew were laughing. I said to them: “I’ve not just seen it before, I’ve been the one here doing it.”

Then Andre did the Tottenham-Manchester City game and was handling it well, only to be let down by his linesman, Scott Ledger. Just like some chairmen want to be managers, some linesmen, it seems to me, now want to be the one blowing the whistle. Having already wrongly called Michael Dawson offside to chalk off a Tottenham equaliser, he then put Andre in a position where he had to send off Danny Rose for a very good tackle on Edin Dzeko.

Marriner was clearly going to let play continue when the linesman started flagging. He had no option then but to give the pen and dismiss Rose. And that settled the game. The pundits and Mauricio Pellegrini said it made no difference as City would have won anyway but that’s rubbish. Spurs were playing well at the time and who’s to say if it was 1-1 with 11 men they might not have won? And it is the poor old ref that carries the can for his lino.

Johnson’s theatrics came as no great surprise

I have a lot of time for Chris Hughton, and Norwich City are such a well-run club I hope they escape relegation, but I smiled when I saw his comment that “Bradley Johnson is not the type of player who would look to get someone sent off”, after Johnson and Loïc Rémy were dismissed in midweek.

The way Johnson fell theatrically backwards when Rémy confronted him took me back a couple of years to a similar incident with Joey Barton at QPR. There was no contact whatsoever but Johnson went down as if poleaxed. He got what he wanted, with Joey sent off and Norwich coming back from 1-0 down to win.

This time I was so pleased Chris Foy did not fall for it. I was subsequently very surprised the decision was overturned yet the red card for Rémy – who wouldn’t have got involved if Johnson hadn’t provoked him – was upheld.