Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Neil Warnock's like a dad - I'm desperate to get QPR promoted, says Adel Taarabt

Adel Taarabt hated life in England so much when he moved here that he wanted to go back to France only two weeks after joining Tottenham.
Fast forward four years and the Queens Park Rangers captain has no thoughts of leaving this country.
The reason for the dramatic transformation in Taarabt's attitude is thanks, largely, to Neil Warnock.
It was Warnock - the sixth manager Taarabt has played under at Loftus Road - who finally turned his loans into a permanent move and then made him captain, with both decisions paying off handsomely.
On Sunday, the 21-year-old scored his 13th goal of the season - another wonder strike - in a 2-1 win over Coventry, which left Rangers top of the Championship by five points.
"Neil is the first manager who really knows how to treat me," he says. "He's like a dad. Sometimes I make a mistake on the pitch and he says to the other players, 'Don't shout at him. If somebody has to speak to him it's me'.
"This year has been fantastic for me. I hope to get in the Premier League because Neil deserves it."
Less than a year after being born in Morocco, Taarabt and his family emigrated to France, growing up in Marseilles. He started his football career with Lens' youth team but was only 17 when he moved to London, where he was given a rude awakening in life both on and off the pitch.
"I arrived to find that, at three o'clock in the afternoon, it was already night. I played for the Tottenham reserves against Chelsea and I could not understand how the English played. Somebody put me on the floor but there were no free-kicks, nothing. The referee just played on. When you play in France it's quiet, the players do not talk. In England I hear players saying, 'F**k off. Man on. Come on'. Players in my team, they are shouting at me. I think they're insulting me."
It did not help that he did not know a word of English.
"I was at the training ground and somebody said, 'Adel, do you want water?' I said to my friend Benoit [Assou-Ekotto] who was with me at Lens, 'What is water?' He said, 'You don't understand? You didn't do English at school?' I said, 'No, I didn't'."
All this had such a disastrous effect on Taarabt's football that his brother, who had accompanied him to north London, got extremely worried. For a player who felt he had a "natural, God-given ability", this was shattering.
"Tottenham put us up in a hotel and, after two weeks, I said to my brother, 'I want to go back to France.' My brother said, 'No chance - you've signed for five years, you can't go back'."
Things did improve. At least he had many French-speaking player friends at Spurs and he soon learned an easy way to improve his English.
"Tottenham had a teacher for us: every day one hour to teach us English. He would tell me this is how we say in English the wheel of a car. I said, 'I don't need this. A car wheel doesn't help me. Tell me how I call for food delivery'."
Taarabt is far more complimentary about Martin Jol, who signed him for Spurs, even if things did go awry under his successor.
"Martin Jol gave me time, but Juande Ramos really killed me," he says. "He didn't like me at all. He was treating me like a man. I was only 18 or 19. Even if he doesn't play me he could have come and given me advice. He never spoke to me. Just put me away in the reserves and said, 'I don't like him and I don't want to play him'."
Taarabt did not figure in Harry Redknapp's plans either and, within months of him taking over, Taarabt was loaned to QPR in March 2009.
"Even though Harry didn't play me a lot, he was good to me," Taarabt says. "He is one of the best English managers because he gave me advice, all the time. He told me, 'You can do unbelievable things. You have to keep working. This is England. You have to defend if you want to be a good player'.
"He told me: 'You've got the same ability as Luka Modric. But you have to work if you want to be like him'."
Last summer, Taarabt was planning a move to Spain but Redknapp convinced the Moroccan to stay in London.
"'Your football is in England, believe me', he said. 'Don't move to Spain because you're not going to enjoy that. England is the best'. I am very grateful to Harry for his advice."
Friends and fellow players warned Taarabt that a permanent move to the Championship would do no good. Even his agent advised against it but he was won over by Warnock.
"Last summer, Neil rang me and said: 'I want to make you the star. Come and you will have freedom to play'. Neil said, 'Even if you lose the ball, I will have some players behind you to do the job for you defensively'.
"When a manager tells you, 'I want to play the team around you,' then you think, 'This manager loves me'. At half-time against Preston [in November], I wasn't playing so well. Neil knows I don't like it when the other players shout at me. So he took me to the showers and said, 'What's wrong?' And in the second half I scored two goals."
Such is Warnock's faith in Taarabt that he was appointed captain when Fitz Hall injured his hamstring just a week into the season and he has held on to the armband despite the defender returning to the side in November.
"Everyone knows I'm not a leader who speaks," he says. "I don't shout at the players. I lead by example. In the dressing room, I see some players before the match, they feel pressure, they throw up, they go to the toilet. I am very relaxed. I laugh, stay cool until the game starts, then I play. Even at half-time I sit down, put my towel on my head and I don't speak. Very often I go for the second half without saying a word."
If his play has brought something special to QPR, he acknowledges he has learned team ethics from Warnock.
"Before I played just for enjoyment. I went on the pitch for 90 minutes and, if I win, I'm happy. If I don't, I go home. Now, with Neil, every game matters. Sometimes, even if I play not good but the team win, then I'm a winner."
His success has made Redknapp wonder if he was right to offload him.
"I saw him last week and Harry had a laugh with me and told me, 'I'm going to get sacked now because of you. I sell you for £1million and now you're worth I don't know how much'."
Taarabt still has lots of friends at Tottenham, so is it possible, having got QPR to the Premier League, that he would move back to White Hart Lane?
"I don't know because this club have given me a lot. I'm enjoying my time here. At the moment, I just want to take QPR into the Premier League. And if I do, I will feel I did my job. But I've got ambition. So, if I've got a good opportunity, then maybe I'll take it."
Despite playing for Tottenham his real English love has always been the other north London club, one he could have joined back in 2007.
"The man who took me to Tottenham was Damien Comolli, now at Liverpool," he says. "He was at Arsenal then. But, when I was going to go to Arsenal, he moved to Tottenham. He told me: 'Come to Tottenham. We want to do like they do at Arsenal and take the best young players in the world. You're going to have a better chance there.' I believed him. This was a mistake and I regret it.
"Tottenham tried to do it like Arsenal but it's a different culture. I would have had a better chance at Arsenal. I would progress with Arsene Wenger. He is a legend in France, one of the best managers in the world."
Taarabt's closest friend is Marouane Chamakh, the Morocco captain now at Arsenal: "I see him all the time. I sleep at his house. He's like a big brother."
Taarabt has never spoken to Wenger, only said hello. But, should the Frenchman decide in the summer that he wants to do more than say hello, he will find Taarabt an eager listener.
"I like the way Arsenal play. If Arsenal come, of course, I'll be very happy."


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