x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

AC Milan’s problem children starting to come good

Taarabt and Rami settling in well after giving previous clubs grief

AC Milan hope Adel Taarabt, pictured during a match against Sampdoria on February 23, 2014, can become as much of a bargain signing as fellow problem child Mario Balotelli. Fabio Muzzi / AFP
AC Milan hope Adel Taarabt, pictured during a match against Sampdoria on February 23, 2014, can become as much of a bargain signing as fellow problem child Mario Balotelli. Fabio Muzzi / AFP

Adriano Galliani, after nearly 30 years wheeling and dealing on behalf of AC Milan at the top of European club football, has acquired some useful touchstone principles in his time, and the club’s vice-president last week articulated one of them.

“Give me the choice between a weak player and one who has a reputation as a difficult character,” he said, “and I will choose the latter.”

Galliani did not add that his pre-eminence as Milan’s transfer guru has lately come under fire within the boardroom, nor that in these, the years of austerity at the club, he has little alternative but to shop around in the “difficult character” section of the transfer market, which bigger-budget institutions can pass over.

No, he was talking about his policy with a justified sense of satisfaction, as he reviewed the impact of January recruit, Adel Taarabt, on Serie A.

Taarabt has always been an enigma. His skill and daring on the ball can be breathtaking, but his yield – from a career that began with his being feted as potentially one of the great entertainers of French football in the post-Zinedine Zidane era – is patchy, to say the least.

Recruited by Tottenham Hotspur from Lens at 17, he was deemed too indulgent and moody there.

France, where he grew up, lost interest in cultivating him as a potential senior international after they had capped him at under-17 level. The land of his birth, Morocco, to whom he committed himself, came to regard him as unreliable by his early 20s, after he protested at being left on their bench.

His best club football until now was played at a level below the top tier, for Queens Park Rangers in the English Championship, who he propelled to promotion in 2011.

Once in the Premier League, he imposed himself less often. Loaned out to Fulham, by December he had become a marginal figure in a squad making its way steadily towards the foot of the English top flight.

He also came to Milan on loan, in a deal entered into at the tail of the winter transfer window.

Most Milanisti were sceptical about this borrowed New Year acquisition, puzzled whether his own description as “the Moroccan Balotelli” meant he came with a suitcase of likely controversies, or whether it meant, like Balotelli 12 months earlier, he would show that being unwanted in the Premier League – as Balotelli had been at Manchester City – need not be an impediment to dazzling in Italy.

Balotelli cost Milan more than €20 million (Dh101m) – a very different level of outlay than Taarabt, but still cut-price, the fee discounted by his problematic reputation – and promptly scored at close to a goal a game on arriving at Milan, pushing the club up into Serie A’s top three from a mid-table mire.

A year later, Taarabt has scored twice in three starts in Italy and, although Robinho’s return to fitness offers Milan coach Clarence Seedorf another option for somebody to run at the Juventus defence in Sunday’s glamour fixture against the champions, Taarabt looks undroppable.

“He’s a rough diamond,” Seedorf says.

Seedorf, appointed to his first job as a coach by Milan in January, always assumed part of his initiation would involve polishing the glint in a few imperfect diamonds.

Galliani’s bequests in January included midfielder Michael Essien, signed from Chelsea on a free, with a very troubled recent record of injury; Keisuke Honda, the thoroughbred Japanese playmaker, who was out of contract at CSKA Moscow but cup-tied for European matches; and Adil Rami, the France international central defender, whose loan deal – plus a nominal fee – was made possible because of a fallout with his parent club, Valencia. Rami was cast out of their first-team squad in September after he gave an interview to Spanish radio deemed disrespectful to then-head coach Miroslav Djukic, and to his colleagues.

Rami has impressed Seedorf and contributed two goals to Milan’s run of four wins in their past six games; that, after a mere five victories from their first 19. Rami, another French-Moroccan, has also hit it off with Taarabt in the dressing-room.

“I’ve had a great welcome and it’s a dream to be at Milan,” Taarabt told L’Equipe. “I hope it’s the start of a really great adventure and I can persuade the club to sign me permanently.”

His loan contract gives Milan the right to do so for €7m. If he continues with such confidence that will be another for Galliani’s hefty portfolio of bargains.

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