The mention of his name alone can stimulate drama and debate. Wherever he’s been, he has sparked the ire of fans, teammates and managers alike. Remind you of someone?
Well, though this may rather aptly fit the description of SuperMario Balotelli, it can also be applied to one of Serie A’s new-boys, Adel Taarabt. The cynics may say his January loan signing is symptomatic of the Rossoneri’s desperate, zero budget transfer policy, but there’s no doubt that the player has talent.
On his debut we saw everything that makes Taarabt a special player - his goal against Napoli encapsulated flamboyancy, flair and footballing instinct. He glided past the opposition defenders and burst into space before curling the ball into the bottom corner with effortless accuracy, past a helpless Pepe Reina. Though Milan went on to lose the game 3-1, Taarabt was a bright spark throughout and the Vesuviani struggled to contain him.
“Taarabt had a great debut,” commented Seedorf in his post-match interview. “He showed a lot of quality, worked hard and scored a great goal. He presented himself well, didn’t he?”
Evidently, Seedorf couldn’t resist giving the critics who lambasted the signing an ‘I told you so’. However, this is the ‘good’ of Taarabt which, in the past, has too often come in flashes and been overshadowed by the bad and the downright hopeless.
Seedorf is not the first Coach to laud Taarabt’s potential contribution. In 2011, QPR boss Harry Redknapp believed he was destined for great things: “He isn't in the same League as Zidane yet because he was a genius, but one day he could be up there. He [Taarabt] has got that much talent, it's just whether or not his head is right.”
Clearly he did not make much progress in fulfilling lofty expectations, as barely a year later Redknapp branded Taarabt as ‘useless’. It was quite a contrast but serves to illustrate his equally natural ability to frustrate. Former QPR teammate Sean Derry called him a maverick but was altogether unimpressed with his workrate: “He will be in the attacking third when we are defending for our lives. You can’t rely on him.”
Such has been Taarabt’s disinterest in defending, one broadcaster stated how his attempt at tracking back resembled that of an ‘elderly rambler admiring the scenery’.
Then, there are the cold, hard facts. During his six months this term with Fulham, he took 52 shots, none of which went in, provided one measly assist in 290 passes and only 15.4 per cent of his crosses were successful. These are hardly the statistics that belong to a player tipped for greatness.
He’s evidently got the skills and the inclination as we witnessed against Napoli, the question is why he has never been able to maintain it. It may very well be a question of focus or desire, but what seems to emerge time after time is an inherent fragility. When the going gets tough, Taarabt simply does not get going.
In light of such issues in his past, it makes it all the more astonishing that he will very shortly be making his Champions League debut in the Last 16 against Atletico Madrid. The phrase ‘opportunity on a plate’ has perhaps never had so much resonance in the footballing world.
Taarabt is at a crossroads in his footballing career. The impact he makes at Milan will define him, one way or another, as either the great playmaker he has so often been tipped to become, or as another footballer who ‘could have been’. The only thing standing in his way now, and has been throughout his career, is himself.