For the third installment in this series, I’m pleased to welcome Louisiana’s finest, Jason LeBlanc from Two Hundred Percent. Jason has taken a more thoughtful approach to this concept than focusing on one single event, but in the end he still ends up seeking the demise of another. Good. Enjoy:
Although Pele has already told us there will never be another Pele, football clubs will persist in looking for the next reasonable facsimile. Hell, a lad could be an unreasonable facsimile, but should enough hype surround him, with over-reaching comparisons drawn to Pele or one of the handful of other football gods like Ronaldo, Zidane, or Eusebio, you can’t deny your attention is grabbed. Watch the player’s skill on Youtube should it be available and, if he measures up, you hope your club gets involved in the “next (insert legendary footballer’s name here) sweepstakes” soon.
One day, woo hoo! Checking the forum boards, you read your club’s director convinced that phantom ownership group based in the Bahamas to pry open their wallets and sign this young legend in the making, and he will be around for years to restock that trophy cabinet that’s been swiftly collecting dust! Oh, and the best part of signing the lad? Those stingy bastards signed him away from your most fierce rivals! This is just too perfect, isn’t it?
Of course it is. The player comes in and either he’s not ready to step up to the next level because he was never going to or because the weight of lofty expectations has dented his confidence to the point where we will never be able to fully tell if he’s reached his potential as even minor progress is minimised. It is this, or the club in question experiences overhaul at the top and the gaffer in charge when he finally comes good moves him on for he no longer fits in the new system and, after all, he was a marginalised leftover from the old regime anyway.
This type of situation has played out far too often in modern football to be incredibly notable, with hyperbole being the order of the day. So why bring it up? Well, when your club engages in this sort of transaction – which is essentially all of you out there – it remains significant, even years after the player’s no longer with your club, because at some point you might have created some odd emotional investment in him coming good. Outside the crass business aspect of buying and selling youngsters – which would be illegal outside the confines of sport if you think about it – there exists a sense of matched optimism or a desire to see a young player discover his way in football and know it was your club that helped him in this endeavor that just gives you that warm, fuzzy feeling often missing in today’s game. Watching a young player grow up and contribute to your club’s success pulls much harder on the heart strings than any hired mercenary goal poacher ever could. Even if it occurs many times over, it still cuts like a knife when that fails to happen, and when he eventually makes his star turn after he leaves your club, that love you once had for him becomes tainted to some degree.
By the way, what’s the record for most 1980s pop song references in a football post again?
My soft cell burst last season watching Adel Taarabt do this exact thing at Loftus Road as he captained Queens Park Rangers to English Premiership promotion. When Damien Comolli signed a then-17 yr old Taarabt permanently from French club Lens in 2007 for Tottenham, he was given the tag the next Zinedine Zidane (of North African descent but grew up playing in France, made sense right?) and considered a real find. At over £3 million, the transfer could have been considered a tad steep, but anyone having watched the lad play before felt he would be worth much more to Spurs should he develop as expected. Unfortunately, this never happened, as Adel was signed for a squad managed at the time by Martin Jol that continued to spend itself silly during that same 2007 summer on established players with the goal to get Tottenham over the hump in the league and finally earn that 4th Champions League position. When the 2007/08 campaign under Jol began poorly, chairman Daniel Levy sacked the Dutchman and turned to Juande Ramos instead, who failed to see enough progress out of Taarabt to even honour him with a squad number, instead picking up Spurs legends like Gilberto da Silva and David Bentley (sarcasm font).
When Magic Juande began the 2008/09 season on 2 points from the opening 8 matches, Levy completely cleaned house, sacking not only the Spaniard but also Gus Poyet and the man who originally signed Adel, Comolli, to make way for Harry Redknapp. While ‘Arry reinstated Taarabt by returning him a squad number, this was little more than lip service to a lad still seen mainly on the training grounds, as Redknapp sought to remedy that season by resigning half his old Portsmouth squad while looking for more “t’riffic lads” over in Croatia. The sense you gathered was that, while Adel was shown to be rather talented, his cocky attitude was a bit much for Redknapp, who played those he already had a relationship with or who were humble enough to be quiet when not picked for his squads. Also, having watched Taarabt spin about a few times in the midfield, you could see he was not one to pass the ball to a teammate readily, preferring instead to overwhelm the opposition with his prodigious skill all by himself.
Now, how can you hoof the ball to Peter Crouch like that, eh?
So, young Adel was shipped down a division to QPR, where he performed quite well in hoops during his two loan spells. In particular, the 2nd loan during the 2009/10 season looked as if giving him actual game minutes was paying off, with 7 goals in 32 matches for Rangers and 5 assists. That assists stat was particularly promising, as it meant the Moroccan was finally involving his teammates in attack more often, even if he was still cracking far too many worthless shots to be considered a team player just yet. Maybe, just maybe, then, the lad was about to come good, and Spurs would have their own moody yet incredibly talented Zidane to challenge the Top Four in England.
The issue with Taarabt, however, was that at the time he looked to be ready to state his case for being a part of the reckoning for an ambitious Premiership club, he was saying all the wrong things. Rather than being a good lad, quietly irked he had not gotten his place in the regular starting XI at White Hart Lane but outwardly “looking forward” to bringing his growth while on loan to the Lane, Adel quipped about how signing for Spurs was a bad idea in the first place, how he thought he was ready for a move to Real Madrid or Barcelona, and other such gibberish that sets in motion the end of a player’s time with a club. Then, he dropped perhaps the biggest no-no by saying that he had wanted to originally move to England with Arsenal, but decided on Tottenham as Comolli had convinced him to go there after having left Highbury himself some years previously.
Adel, there’s the door – don’t let it hit you on the way out.
A permanent deal for QPR was arranged in the summer of 2010 then, and to be fair it likely had less to do with Taarabt’s mouth and more to do with Redknapp’s bloated midfield options. Simply put, there was almost nowhere to put Taarabt at the time, and with ‘Arry having successfully guided Spurs to the promised land of the Champions League with a midfield absent the opinionated player, he had the leverage to determine Adel’s time with Spurs was finished. Still, it felt slightly sad, as there were moments when, as a Spurs supporter, you thought if only they had just a bit more of his type of creative spark during his stint, how it could have been different. There might not have been that “2 points from 8 games” that brought many of us to near fatal brain aneurysms. Arsenal’s run in the North London Derby might have been ended sooner, or perhaps Tottenham might have had more than just that one glorious season in the Champions League. If there had not been so much upheaval during Taarabt’s time at White Hart Lane, what might we be seeing from the player today?
Once he made the permanent move to Rangers, I had hoped he would do well. Then, he pulled off one of the greater individual Championship performances in some time, with nearly as many assists (!!) as goals in leading QPR to promotion to the Premiership. And, he did it captaining the side. Adel Taarabt, a club captain, leading his side to victory? Why hadn’t he kept his mouth shut and showed that quality for Spurs, forced ‘Arry to play him as he now does several other young Spurs products of late? Now, instead of wishing a young player well a division below he would now be competing directly against Spurs in the league? And, he had this epiphany on the pitch under the tutelage of Neil Warnock?
Bloody damn hell.
Now, I know he hasn’t had the brightest of starts to life in the Premiership, but even his recent disappearing act against Tottenham when finally facing his former club wasn’t satisfying enough. Over the years I had defended his attitude, chalking it up to youthful indiscretion, argued the manager should have been giving him more of a chance rather than some of the other louts that were inexplicably receiving regular time on the pitch, and genuinely hoped that when he realised his potential, he was doing it wearing a cockerel on his shirt. The slight heel turn followed by his tremendous play last season after his relationship with Tottenham was officially over has reduced me to being a spurned lover. Rather than eating tubs of ice cream and leaving awful messages on his voicemail, however, I generally hope he fails to reach that full “next Zidane” designation wherever he might go unless he has a rethink on his time at the Lane. Yes, this is a rather evil thing to think.
Then again, I’m just fighting evil with evil and am unconcerned about making things right in the matter. Oh, and he’s putting his name up with the likes of Paris Saint-Germain now? Good luck with that, Warnock. Or not.
Follow Jason on Twitter here.