Rodney Marsh and Stan Bowles are rightly regarded as club legends at Queens Park Rangers, but judging by the direction Adel Taarabt is heading, he may one day find himself being spoken about by supporters in the same hushed tones.
A veritable crowd-pleaser, the Moroccan playmaker’s spectacular goals, defence-splitting passes and remarkable dribbling skills have turned him into a great favourite of the Loftus Road faithful over the past three seasons. Outstanding last term, he suffered a disappointing start to the 2011/12 campaign, but has since regained his form at just the right moment.
“I didn’t have the best start to the season, that’s true. I was on the point of being transferred, but it didn’t happen in the end,” the Fes native told FIFA.com. “Even though I can always do better, now I can definitely say that I’m back to my best. I scored against Tottenham and Arsenal, and I feel I’ve generally improved my game over the last few matches,” he said.
A player capable of virtuoso performances, Taarabt scored 19 goals and set up a further 16 during QPR’s successful promotion push last season. His then manager Neil Warnock made no attempt to hide his pleasure at managing to retain the services of the midfield maestro.
“It’s a fantastic achievement for the club to hang on to him. We’re delighted that he’s staying. We desperately needed a player capable of winning big games, and that’s exactly what he is,” said the experienced supremo.
From Lens to London
Often as impetuous off the pitch as he is skilful on it, Taarabt has a forceful personality that has not always done him favours in the past, his first season as a professional at Lens in 2006 being a case in point. Following an altercation with one of his team-mates in a reserve match, he left the pitch while the game continued around him, immediately drawing the curtain on his time in France and precipitating his move to England.
“I have nothing but excellent memories of my spell at Lens. I spent seven years at the club, making some good friends and working with great coaches. I learned a huge amount there,” recounted Taarabt, with no bitterness in his voice. “Then I got the opportunity to come to Tottenham and play in the Premier League, which is currently the best in the world, in my opinion. I jumped at the chance,” he continued.
Loaned out to Spurs, who wasted no time in signing him on a permanent basis, Taarabt struggled to establish a place in the London club’s starting XI. When QPR offered him regular playing time, the decision to make the short trip westwards was quickly made, signalling the start of a fruitful if sometimes agitated partnership between the North African midfield man and the then promotion-chasing outfit.
But the negative incidents in which he has been involved, such as the speculation surrounding his future earlier this season, or his much-publicised walkout during a 6-0 loss to Fulham, have generally been forgiven by fans mesmerised by his highly impressive displays. “I do have quite a strong personality, but it’s just during games that it tends to come out. Away from the pitch, I’m actually quite easy-going,” he said.
Named the Championship's best player in 2010/11 as well as Arab Player of the Year for 2011, Taarabt would willingly trade in the individual awards he has earned thus far in exchange for helping his club to secure their Premier League status.
“Of course I would. I’m going to do everything in my power to help the club to avoid the drop, and it would be wonderful if we could manage it,” he said, adding, “I really hope I can continue my Premier League adventure with QPR. The best possible outcome for me would be to stay at the club.”
Taarabt’s relationship with the Moroccan national side has been even more turbulent. Boasting a record of ten caps and three goals, Taarabt first caused a stir at international level in June 2011, by turning his back on the team after being informed that he would not start a key match against Algeria.
Having subsequently buried the hatchet with the coaching staff, he went on to inspire his country to a 3-1 win over Tanzania in October, a result that qualified them for the 2012 CAF Africa Cup of Nations. The anticipated happy ending did not materialise, however, as the Atlas Lions were eliminated at the group stage of the continental competition.
“I don’t think we were ready for the tournament. It was extremely hot, and the state of the pitches didn’t help the style we were trying to play. We fought hard, though. Maybe we were guilty of thinking it was going to be easy, when it was anything but easy. It was still a great experience for a player like me, still only 22,” said the attacking midfielder.
This failure would also lead to a complete breakdown in the relationship between Moroccan national coach Eric Gerets and Taarabt, unhappy about being omitted from recent squads. “I don’t get on very well with Gerets. I still love my country, and I still want to represent it, but I can’t see me playing for the national team while this current coach is in charge,” he said.
On Sunday 13 May, Taarabt will instead be fully focused on the domestic task at hand, that of beating title-chasing Manchester City, and saving QPR from relegation in the process. And if he can help the club to attain those goals, the young Moroccan will be one step closer to achieving legendary status in the eyes of supporters.