Adel Taarabt’s career was quickly plummeting into the realms of mediocrity when he joined Portuguese side Benfica in the summer of 2015.
While playing in England, for the likes of Tottenham, Queens Park Rangers and Fulham, the Moroccan had picked up a questionable reputation – he had the flair and skill to dazzle opponents but his attitude was brought into the spotlight.
And unfortunately for Taarabt, who had won Football League Player of the Year in the 2010-11 season, as QPR won the Championship, the latter had dented his chances of becoming a superstar on the biggest stage.
Adel Taarabt has rediscovered himself with Benfica after his career was whittling away
Taarabt is hoping to let his football do the talking with Benfica in the Champions League
Taarabt even hinted this last year when he declared he had once harboured huge dreams to represent the greatest teams in Europe.
‘I don’t like to say this about myself, but I think if you talked to everyone who saw me when I was a young talent, many would have said I’d play for Real Madrid or Barcelona one day. Even Luka Modric said that to me once,’ the now 30-year-old told FourFourTwo.
‘But it didn’t happen. Not only because of others, but because of me.’
Taarabt’s career was quickly swaying towards the wayside while at QPR and his character and inconsistency was coming under plenty of questioning.
His lack of form led to him falling out of favour under then QPR boss Harry Redknapp, who in 2014, publicly humiliated the attacking midfielder after he was completely axed from the Premier League squad to face Liverpool.
Redknapp said: ‘He [Taarabt] is not injured. He’s not fit. He’s not fit to play football unfortunately. He played in a reserve game the other day and I could have run about more than he did. I can’t pick him.’
Against RB Leipzig in the Champions League, Taarabt produced a display of real maturity
The 30-year-old has been prepared to put in the dirty work in order to get back on track
Taarabt celebrates with the Portuguese Super Cup trophy at the beginning of August this year
The writing was on the wall and fast forward to the end of the 2014-15 campaign, which saw QPR relegated to the Championship, his contract at Loftus Road was terminated by mutual consent.
But little did he know, that he would be given another chance, this time at Benfica – even if was long overdue.
Taarabt had signed a five-year contract with Portuguese giants Benfica in 2015 on a free transfer. Things didn’t go according to plan straight away however, with the Moroccan sent on loan for 18 months to Italian side Genoa, before spending another seven months with the Portugese side’s reserve team.
However, a staggering 1,387 days after arriving at Estadio da Luz, Taarabt finally made his debut for Benfica in a Primeira Liga clash with Tondela. It signalled the start of his renaissance.
Taarabt, who earned a long-awaited return to Morroco’s squad thanks to his fine form, has become a regular for The Eagles this season, featuring in six out of seven top-flight matches as Benfica sit second behind surprise leaders FC Famalicao.
He has also played the full 90 minutes in the club’s opening two Champions League games and this is perhaps where he has made his biggest mark.
After signing for Benfica, the midfielder spent 18 months on loan at Italian outfit Genoa
While things haven’t gone to plan for Benfica – losing their opening two group fixtures against RB Leipzig and Zenit Saint Petersburg – Taarabt has rediscovered himself on the pitch in unlikely fashion.
His display against Bundesliga giants Leipzig wasn’t the Taarabt of old – unlikely to create a highlight reel on Youtube but more likely to satisfy the needs of old school football supporters.
Taarabt, who operated as a traditional central midfielder against Leipzig, covered more ground than any other player on the pitch – aside from his opponent Diego Demme. His distance of 11.39km was well above Benfica’s average of 10.56km.
While he showed a workhorse character, he also displayed a defensive-minded approach during the 2-1 defeat, making the second most interceptions on the night at Estadio da Luz.
The 30-year-old was careful in possession too, with no one managing a better pass completion rate and producing a tally of six successful dribbles – double that of anyone else.
Taarabt’s skill was never in doubt while playing in England for the likes of Queens Park Rangers
His display had been likened to Belgian midfielder Mousa Dembele, showing strong physicality both going forward and in defence, while looking more than comfortable on the ball.
It may have not been the display that brought his talents to everyone’s attention as a youngster but little will Taarabt and more importantly Benfica, care.
If Taarabt continues to show the maturity and desire past managers and fans have craved from him, maybe just maybe he can continue to enjoy a career at the highest level.
He appears to have rediscovered himself in Lisbon and Benfica will hope their charismatic Moroccan can lead them to more silverware domestically while going head-to-head with some of Europe’s best clubs.
It’s Lyon up next for Benfica at home and Taarabt will be desperate to help his club pick up their first victory in this season’s Champions League.
However, his attitude and character was brought into question, which derailed his career