"People think they know Adel Taarabt," says the Benfica midfielder who has regenerated surprisingly in Lisbon.
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Written off as a troublemaker after a tempestuous start to his playing career, Adel Taarabt is showing the indomitable spirit of the UEFA Europa League by carving out a new role at Benfica.
"People think they know Adel Taarabt," the 31-year-old told UEFA.com as he looked ahead to a round of 32 encounter with Arsenal. "They are about to learn who I am. I've always been good on the ball, but the Europa League is about to see another side of me."
A scarily talented youngster at Lens, the ambitious Taarabt was picked up by Tottenham Hotspur as a teenager but struggled to establish himself at White Hart Lane, eventually moving on to London rivals Queens Park Rangers. There, he demonstrated his immense skill, and flair, but also his dark side; prone to bouts of temper, he did not always endear himself to his coaches.
After inconclusive loan spells with Fulham and AC Milan, Taarabt move to Benfica in 2015, but never really settled until 2019/20, when a surprise decision to drop back and reinvent himself as a deep-lying playmaker brought huge rewards.
"I knew I had more to give," he explained. "Benfica and the Europa League are the perfect opportunity to prove that. Before, I was more about scoring goals, assists. I didn't like tackling so much. But now, when you when you help your team-mates, they appreciate it."
His Eagles colleague Jan Vertonghen knew of Taarabt's reputation when he arrived from Spurs in the summer of 2020, but was shocked to see him a changed man. "He surprised me a lot when I arrived here," said the Belgium defender. "He still has the same technique, but he has a bigger drive now. He's creative, but he works hard. He's the engine of our team."
Having put in the hard hours, Taarabt feels he has found his true calling at the heart of this Benfica side, and is hoping to prove himself on the continent this season. "The Europa League is another stage for me to show the people the player I am today," he said. "I go into every game ready to fight for Benfica. To those who question my desire or ability, I say – watch me!"