This is a love story.
Not a Hollywood love story. There are no childhood sweethearts involved. This love story makes no sense.
It involves a player, a manager and the football love-in that occurred when the two met. In order to fully understand the true magic of this story you need some more details.
Adel Taarabt was born in Fez, Morocco, in 1989. Roughly 1,970 miles away, Neil Warnock was leaving not-so-sunny Scarborough to take the reins at Notts County in English football’s third tier.
In 2004, at the age of 15, Taarabt joined French club Lens. Warnock, by now only 345 miles away, was five years into his spell as Sheffield United manager, although still two years off the Premier League.
It wasn’t long before English clubs were circling around the prodigious talented, whose performances for Lens’ youth sides and France Under-17s were drawing comparisons with a certain Zinedie Zidane.
Spurs got the deal over the line in January 2007. By the end of the year Warnock had been named Crystal Palace boss, meaning the heroes of this tale were now on opposite sides of London.
On 4 April 2009, their paths crossed for the first time. In films, this moment is known as the ‘meet cute’.
Taarabt, who’d been loaned to QPR, faced off against a Warnock side containing Victor Moses, Nathaniel Clyne and Rui Fonte. A 0-0 draw wasn’t exactly worth the wait, but it was only the beginning.
Seven months later they played out another draw in which Taarabt was fouled, allowing Akos Buzsaky to net from the penalty spot.
Then came a crucial moment. Warnock left Palace for QPR in March 2010. No sooner had he got his hands on QPR’s transfer kitty than Taarabt joined permanently from Spurs.
Our two heroes were finally together. Did it make sense? Not at all.
Warnock had been brought in to steer QPR back to the Premier League using steel, hence the arrivals of Paddy Kenny and Danny Shittu. Taarabt was pure silk. A maverick for whom normal team rules did not apply.
But Warnock wasn’t concerned, telling journalists: “He has got unique talent and his target is to play at the top level, and I’m hoping we can achieve that.”
Warnock wasn’t done with the surprises. At the start of the 2010/11 season he made Taarabt, still only 21, QPR’s captain, despite the presence of experienced campaigners like Clint Hill, Fitz Hall and Shaun Derry.
It didn’t take long for Taarabt to repay Warnock’s faith. By the turn of the year he’d scored 11 times from midfield.
After watching Taarabt take Scunthorpe to the cleaners, Warnock giddily told reporters: “I’ve never seen anybody with ability like his. At 61, I’ve never seen anyone like him in my life.”
By the end of the season that number had risen to 19, with Taarabt single-handedly firing QPR back into the Premier League as Championship winners.
But stats don’t tell the whole story. The joy Taarabt brought to Loftus Road can’t be understood in pure numbers, unless they refer to nutmegs or defenders embarrassed.
Just watch the compilation below, because words aren’t enough for some of Taarabt’s moments…
Taarabt nutmegged his way into the PFA Team of the Year, alongside Wes Morgan and Andy King, and was also crowned Football League Player of the Year.
But while Morgan and King have gone on the be unlikely Premier League winners, Taarabt can now be found wasting away in Benfica’s B team.
Taarabt’s first season back in the Premier League was littered with disciplinary issues, punctuated by interest from PSG and a half-time walk out in El Middle Classico against Fulham.
Warnock didn’t fare much better. He found himself out of a job in January, at which point QPR were 17th in the table.
The honours Taarabt won under Warnock remain his only pieces of silverware to date. A ludicrously poor return for a man of such talent.
Warnock went on to manage Leeds, Palace and Rotherham before winding up at Cardiff, where he faces one of the biggest challenges of a decorated career in trying to steer the Welsh away from Premier League relegation.
If only there was a player out there who could offer Warnock’s functional Cardiff side a bit of genius. He couldn’t, could he?
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