After Queens Park Rangers were promoted from the Championship in 2011, the then-Tottenham Hotspur manager Harry Redknapp was asked how he thought his former player Adel Taarabt would perform in the Premier League. "He will take the division by storm," said Redknapp before adding: "for a few weeks". But that was then. Now Taarabt, once the epitome of a mercurial luxury player, has added consistency to his breathtaking skills and Redknapp finds himself relying on the Moroccan to keep his team in the Premier League – and dreading the prospect of parting with him again. If Taarabt is summoned by his country for the Africa Cup of Nations in January, QPR's survival hopes will take a hit.
"He's got ability like not many people you've ever seen in your life," said Redknapp of the player who crowned a wonderful personal display against Fulham with two fine goals to give QPR their first league win of the season and haul them to within five points of safety. "He can do things that nobody else can do … He's my type of player, I love people with that ability. I had [Paolo] Di Canio [at West Ham] and he's like that. The boy is a genius, he could play with anybody."
Redknapp was not always so enamoured with Taarabt, who featured infrequently for Tottenham after joining as a 17-year-old from Lens in 2007, and was loaned out to QPR before joining permanently for around £1m in 2010. He then inspired the west London side to promotion. Redknapp now claims that even though the player could be frustrating back then, he never wanted Tottenham to sell him. He has been pleased to find that the player has progressed since they were last together. "I said before that he was a nut and he can be a nut … but he's grown up a bit now, he's better than he was. He was a complete fruitcake at Tottenham."
The QPR full-back Armand Traoré, who has known Taarabt since he was a teenager, said Redknapp's predecessor, Mark Hughes, deserves much of the credit for the Moroccan's improvement. "Mark Hughes showed him how much of a good player he is and on the other hand he has to work hard," said Traoré. "I think it was a really good step for Adel to have that manager."
Redknapp said that he still had to remind the 23-year-old to keep his focus after the draw at Wigan Athletic last week. "I took him off last week and he wasn't in the best of moods and didn't behave in the best of ways so I had him in the office on Monday morning and had a good heart-to-heart chat with him and he's responded to that."
Redknapp also gave Taarabt a new position, placing him in the advanced central role in a 4-2-3-1 and the player thrived in it, orchestrating virtually every attack against Fulham, who never looked worth a point even when Mladen Petric narrowed the deficit in the 88th minute.
"I freed [Taarabt] up to play in there and try to get him in between their midfield and their back four and get the ball to him at every opportunity because he can do damage to anybody," said Redknapp. "It's important to get him in the right position, he's not as effective out on the left." Fulham's manager Martin Jol, who worked with Taarabt at Tottenham and then tried to sign him for both Hamburg and Ajax, hailed him as "a wizard".
Taarabt has seldom been a regular starter for his country and QPR now hope that Morocco's manager, Rachid Taoussi, does not recognise the player's newfound reliability because if he is called up for next month's Africa Cup of Nations he will miss between two and five matches for his club, depending on how far his country progress. They are in a tough group, with Angola, Cape Verde and the hosts South Africa, but are capable of reaching the final. Taarabt, knowing how vital he is to his club's survival, has admitted he is torn about what to do if called up but is unlikely to turn down his country. "It's really hard," says the Senegal international Traoré. "I've been in that situation last year. If you say no to your country, you and your family will get slaughtered. On the other hand QPR really need him so I think it's just going to have to be how he feels. But you can't really say no to the national team."
Man of the match Adel Taarabt (QPR)
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010
image: © curiouslypersistent