Don't Curb His Ego, Harness It...

Adel Taarabt could be exactly as brilliant as he already thinks he is - but he must harness his ego like Cantona or Zidane. He's getting too old for foibles to be forgiven...

Last Updated: 03/10/12 at 10:26 Post Comment

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If an encyclopedia of footballing cliches is ever written, and if its author has any sense, the page defining the tired descriptive that is 'mercurial' will simply contain a picture of Adel Taarabt.

I first saw Taarabt in the flesh during his brief time at Spurs, under Martin Jol. Even at this point, as an 18-year-old, Taarabt exhibited - and exhibited is the word - a level of skill well above most players with whom he was sharing the pitch. His technical ability, though, was tainted by the complete absence of vision - or at least a stubborn unwillingness to use it. A blur of limbs, blindly dribbling at one defender after another, the teenage Taarabt often resembled a kid in the playground, more talented than the other boys, but far, far too keen to show it. His impact on games was minimal, and with Martin Jol deeming the industry of Teemu Tainio, Steed Malbranque and Jermaine Jenas to be his priority in the wide berths, Taarabt was loaned to QPR.

Bizarrely, given that it contained every ingredient in the proverbial recipe for disaster, the alliance between the capricious Taarabt and English football's agitator-in-chief Neil Warnock at Loftus Road in fact bore much fruit for both parties. Having dropped down a division, Taarabt began to convert such thus-far-frustrating intangibles of 'talent' and 'potential' into a commensurate footballing output. The nutmegging of a full-back was now followed with a cross or shot, and the option of a simple pass was no longer contemptuously eschewed. The on-loan Taarabt quickly became a vital player in Warnock's team, regularly demonstrating that he was, to put it mildly, a cut above the Championship, and indeed personifying QPR's ambitions of playing at a higher level.

Having managed to secure Taarabt's permanent employment at Loftus Road in the summer of 2010, Warnock made the bold move of appointing the Moroccan, only 21 at the time, as his captain. Although a seemingly bizarre choice of leader - one unlikely to have enthused Taarabt's more senior teammates - Warnock's decision could in fact be seen as a rather astute attempt to satiate his playmaker's boisterous ego, further increasing Taraabt's sense of centrality to his side at a time when they needed him at his best in order to push for promotion.

Either way, Warnock's decision to hand Taarabt the armband was vindicated with QPR's skipper,clearly relishing his consolidated status as club talisman, leading them to the Championship trophy and automatic promotion. Taarabt's 19 goals - some of them genuinely wonderful - a further 16 assists, and the division's Player of the Year award that season had fans across the country salivating at the prospect of watching him more regularly in the top flight.

But Taarabt's re-acquaintance with the Premier League has, thus far, not gone to plan. Since QPR's re-introduction to the elite, his fortunes have somewhat mirrored those of his club: there's been various peaks, slightly more troughs, and the odd glimpse of unmistakable, untapped potential, but fundamental questions still remain unanswered. The first half alone of last season, for example, was marked with extensive speculation linking Taarabt with nouveau riche Paris Saint Germain, the transferral of his captaincy to newcomer Joey Barton, a public attack from Warnock towards the player's agent, and various whispers of dressing-room tantrums. On the pitch, things were similarly turbulent - Taarabt managing a record-breaking number of non-goalscoring shots, twice being substituted at half-time, and eventually losing any guarantee of a starting place in QPR's side. A string of much better performances over the second half of the campaign restored his employers' wavering faith, however, and Taarabt signed a new contract at the club this summer in the wake of their last-ditch survival.

The point of all this is not just simply to recite the key moments of Taarabt's career so far, but to illustrate that this career has taken a rather frenzied trajectory, veering wildly between often exceptional highs and quite disheartening lows. It seems to be a case of personality. At a glance, Taarabt would seem be a player to whom a familiar party line perfectly applies: talented, but lazy. Skilful, but can't work within a team. Bags of ability, but too volatile a character. The problem with characterising a player within these binaries, though, is that it suggests opposition, and therefore that the 'bad' attributes need to be eradicated. Look closely, and it's in fact microcosmic of the more general value system within British football: skilful, are ya? But how hard will you graft? How far will you run? Will you fight for your teammates on the battlefield? It is, of course, nonsense - no-one wants to see a game between 22 James Milners.

The solution is in fact to find a positive balance between the two. With a player as talented as Taarabt, these supposedly damaging characteristics such as ego, volatility, and selfishness can in fact work to inform performances constructively - ask Le Tissier, ask Cantona, ask Zidane. The trick is not to be dictated by them.

At 23, though, Taarabt is now entering a phase of his career where rash decisions will be less easily forgiven, where unjustified outbursts will live longer in the memory. In short, he needs to prove himself fairly soon. Taarabt's enormous self-belief needs not to be extinguished, but to be channelled in a more effective way. Yesterday's goal against West Ham was an example of exactly that. Arrogant? Yep. Selfish? Certainly (ask the better-placed Bobby Zamora). Effective? Oh yes.

Just as QPR's recent turbulence now needs to be stabilised into something more consistently productive, as does Taarabt's. The club's lavish expenditure this summer also represents significant uncharted territory for the Moroccan: he is no longer the unequivocal star of the squad, no longer the indispensable asset he once was. He may not like that. He remains, though, arguably the most naturally gifted player at the club - something he won't need telling.

So far, Taarabt has not done himself justice in the Premier League. It's a fact that he, as well as most football fans, will want to see change. But time is on his side. So is ability. There is no doubt that Taarabt can prove himself as a good player at this level. I just hope he doesn't curb his ego, his narcissism, his madness, in order to do so. That way he might become a great one.

Alex Hess - you can follow him on Twitter

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