Taarabt walks line between genius and joker
Moroccan was Rangers' talisman in reaching Premier League but rejection by Spurs showed he's a handful for his own team too
They are used to flamboyant entertainers at Queens Park Rangers, from Rodney Marsh through Stan Bowles to Adel Taarabt. Perhaps that is why supporters are prepared to indulge the last-named to a degree that may well not happen at other clubs. Yet it is a measure of how much more the Moroccan has still to achieve that others would consider it sacrilege to mention him in the same breath.
The "QPR Cult Heroes T-Shirt", on sale in a fetching shade of blue, features the names of Marsh, Bowles and Les Ferdinand, all of whom eventually moved on to bigger clubs but were still revered. Taarabt reportedly announced his desire to leave in January, just as he did in the summer, then claimed he had been misreported, all of which tends to be greeted with a shrug by the Rangers manager Neil Warnock, whose line in public is usually: "That's Adel."
In private, Warnock has said in his column in The Independent, he will have a firmer word, as when Taarabt stomped home after being substituted at half-time during the embarrassing 6-0 defeat by Fulham.
"You're going to get days when he throws his toys out of the pram," Warnock said on that occasion. "But I have told him that these things can get out of hand. I think Adel knows what he did was wrong and we move on." Today, moving on is a matter of moving back to White Hart Lane and Taarabt's first English club, Tottenham, where he arrived from Lens hailed as "the new Zidane" and left 18 months ago as something of a misfit.
It has always been clear that he could do remarkable things with a football, as a clutch of videos on YouTube confirms; sometimes – although never yet in the top division in France or England – the ball ends up in the opposition's net. Martin Jol, when he managed Spurs, called him "a wizard" and claimed "on the ball I don't think there's another talent like him in England". That was hardly apparent when he played against Jol's Fulham this month. Juande Ramos, the Dutchman's successor, declined even to give Taarabt a squad number, but his next two managers, Harry Redknapp and QPR's Jim Magilton, both used the word "genius".
At Loftus Road last season he was top cat, scorer of 19 goals in Rangers' Championship triumph and voted the Football League Player of the Year. In August, however, Tony Fernandes bought a majority shareholding in the club and used some much-needed funds to bring in some arguably bigger beasts. They were certainly on bigger salaries, to the annoyance of Taarabt (pictured), who also lost the captaincy to one of them, Joey Barton, with whom he has subsequently had a prickly relationship.
Since being substituted at Fulham, Taarabt has played only 25 minutes against Blackburn and an hour in the win over Chelsea last weekend, when he again declined to sit with his team-mates after being brought off.
After the Blackburn game, Barton picked up on the G-word when he said: "I came here and was told he was a genius, but I'm yet to see it. I don't know whether that is because he doesn't work hard enough or that he tends to sulk." According to one of Rangers' coaches, Barton's line in training has been even firmer: "If you want to sulk, do it while you're running back. Don't do it walking. And if I ask you to do something, do it."
There were equally strong words for him at Chelsea when David Pleat, the former Spurs manager and director of football, told Radio 5 Live: "He's a bad boy, he's not a team player." Yesterday, Pleat recalled: "From his early days at Tottenham, he thought he was a star. I remember seeing him early on for Tottenham reserves against Birmingham, playing outside left in front of Chris Hughton's son Cian. When he lost the ball, he never came back to help. Every time the ball went astray he made some kind of gesture as if to say 'not my fault'.
"Taarabt has great tricks and some wonderful vision at times, he's a talented boy. But I've seen so many talented boys who look certainties and then fade away for all sorts of reasons. In the end, if a player is very headstrong and really believes either that he's better than the rest or that they should play to his strengths, it's very difficult. Some players think they're more important than the team. And I think that's a remark that can be made about Taarabt."
It is attitude, then, rather than ability, that is being questioned. Warnock is inclined, for now, to defend Taarabt, saying QPR would not have won promotion without him and stressing that it is better to emphasise his good points rather than dwelling on the negatives. But Pleat is adamant about moving in a different direction: "I'd sell him. Don't let it fester too long, maximise his price and say: 'That's it, history now, the king is dead'."
Tottenham Hotspur v Queens Park Rangers is on Sky Sports 1 today, kick-off 4pm
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