Many of us know that one guy that could have made it as a professional footballer if only he had gotten his act together – Adel Taarabt is that guy, only he did make it.
To those who witnessed him play ball in the flesh, the Moroccan was one of the most talented individuals they had ever seen live. But the mercurial attacker frustratingly never made the most of his talent.
Hop onto YouTube, type Adel Taarabt into the search bar and you will bear witness to a human highlight reel. You will see him do things you, or sometimes his own teammates, can scarcely believe.
This Adel Taarabt nutmeg. pic.twitter.com/KZzAsB583v
— Premier League (@premierleague) December 15, 2022
The man broke ankles for fun, sprinkling his magic on the pitch like a wizard without a care in the world. On his day, he was unplayable.
The problem, of course, was that those days weren’t nearly frequent enough. For every mesmerising display he would also put in a stinker. He was liable to lose the ball in areas you really don’t want to, to the extent that any QPR player who passed to him in their own third was fined.
Taarabt was not, to put it mildly, a consummate professional. He loved life in London – he was partial to a shisha pipe on the King’s Road – and refused to move outside the capital, despite interest from Liverpool.
It was his skill and ability on the ball that attracted Tottenham to him in 2007, signing him from Lens when he was just 17. He made his debut just two months later, yet he would go to make just nine Premier League appearances for the club over three years.
QPR snapped him up and it was Loftus Road where we saw the best of a flawed genius during his time in England. In a bid to “get an extra ten percent” out of him, manager Neil Warnock made the bold decision to give him the captain’s armband. He was also the one who instituted the aforementioned fines, which included banning him from entering his own half.
It worked a charm. With the team built around him, Taarabt scored 19 goals to fire The Rs back into the Premier League in 2011. He was head and shoulders above the rest of the Championship, a magician who bounced off opposition defenders and bamboozled others.
😱 WHAT. A. GOAL.
— QPR FC (@QPR) December 6, 2019
Give him just half a chance and he’d embarrass you.
For a short time out came the tricks, flicks and end product, as Taarabt thrived as the second tier’s star man. Rather than kickstarting his career however, it turned out to be the peak.
Harry Redknapp, the man who sold Taarabt while at Tottenham, took over at QPR in 2012. He enjoyed one solid campaign under the new boss, scoring five goals in 31 league appearance, before it all fell apart for him at the west London club.
Redknapp had said that Taarabt had “the ability to be anything he wants to be”, but found himself frustrated with the Moroccan’s lack of discipline.
— QPR FC (@QPR) May 7, 2020
In an infamous press conference, Redknapp slated the forward for being overweight and not trying in a reserve match. “He’s not fit to play football unfortunately,” said Redknapp.
“I pick people that want to try, and deserve to be at a good football club like QPR, and want to work, and come in every day and want to work, and train, and show a good attitude.
“When he starts doing that, whether he ever can do it, maybe he’ll get a game. I can’t keep protecting people who don’t want to run about and train, who are about three stone overweight.
“What am I supposed to keep saying, keep getting your 60, 70 grand a week but don’t train? What’s the game coming to?”
Redknapp later called Taarabt “the worst professional I have ever come across”.
After loan spells with Fulham and AC Milan, Taarabt found a new home in Benfica in 2015 and remained there for seven years. Although it took a long time for things to click for him in Portugal, he eventually enjoyed a career renaissance with the Eagles. Bizarrely, he was even deployed as a defensive midfielder.
Where is he now? Taarabt is still playing football at the age of 34, lining out for Al-Nasr in the UAE, far away from the spotlight he used to hog. When Morocco reached the semi-finals of the World Cup last year, it surely crossed his mind that he could have been there as a member of the country’s golden generation had things gone differently.
What could have been.