|The Mac is back, but where does it leave Taarabt?|
Tue 15th Nov 2011 23:08 by Clive Whittingham
Jamie Mackie’s impressive comeback from his broken leg continued with a man of the match display and fabulous goal for Scotland on Friday night. So is he now guaranteed a start at QPR? And if so where does it leave Adel Taarabt?
The best medicine
It seems the European economy is beyond salvation. Even an almost complete lack of any LoftforWords content for the last six days has failed to stimulate even the slightest growth or upturn. The FTSE is down again today. There’s no hope.
That lack of LFW content hasn’t been through some guilt at the amount of work hours lost in our capital city to this website every year – no, I’m afraid it’s more to do with the winter vomit virus that has swept through LoftforWords Towers with somewhat spectacular effect since last Thursday. It’s an incredible illness to catch actually – restricting yourself to two small mouthfuls of food in three days still doesn’t stop you producing one bucket loads of sick every two hours. I weighed 11st 2llbs last Thursday, I now weigh 10st 6lbs. Maybe it’s the thought of travelling to Stoke again for the first time in three years that did it.
We’ll be playing catch up on here to pretty spectacular effect between now and the weekend ahead of next week’s trip to Amsterdam where I’ll finally get to clap eyes on The Four Year Plan – review to follow of course.
While I was laid out in my living room sweating, puking and marvelling at just how awful those bloody Ray Winstone adverts are two things cheered me up. Firstly the news that Blackburn are intending to extend the deal of manager Steve Kean. Now to be honest I look at the Blackburn team and don’t think it’s playing too badly, but there is not a lot of potential for improvement there. Only a period of new manager syndrome could possibly see them put enough points on the board to survive and while Kean stays and denies them that the bad feeling that permeates down from the terraces over his continued presence will continue to hamper an already limited team. From our point of view it looks like a relegation spot filled by November, and Wigan are showing few signs of staging any kind of escape as well.
Secondly I did manage to keep the projectile vomiting at bay long enough to sit through Scotland’s 2-1 win in Cyprus on Friday night when Jamie Mackie was, to be honest, absolutely brilliant. There were all the usual things you associate with a Jamie Mackie performance in there – the work rate, the endeavour, the chasing of lost causes, the slightly vacant look in his eyes – but there were also some very encouraging and new elements included in the mix.
Mackie scored a fantastic goal, his second in as many Scottish appearances, by skinning two men along the byline and then sliding the ball in from an acute angle. Earlier in the game he’d ghosted past three men on the way to goal and only been denied by a fine save. A goal he scored for us at Leicester last season sprang to mind where he took his man on the outside and slipped it past the goalkeeper just as the home side thought they had him right where they wanted him. But in general, I cannot ever recall seeing this genuinely skilful, creative, dynamic Jamie Mackie before.
It made me wonder whether I’ve been a little harsh on our likeable former Plymouth man, or whether he’s managed to improve himself despite missing the last nine months with a broken leg.
Mackie is a hard man and player to dislike. After sitting through a period of QPR history that may one day become more widely known as the ‘Steve Slade Years’ I’ve long desired a player with Mackie’s attitude and work rate. He’s somebody that actually seems to care about what he’s doing and insist on putting everything he has into everything he does. You may think that’s the least you would expect of a well paid footballer but it’s a sadly all too rare attribute.
Despite this, and his highly prolific start to life at QPR where he scored eight goals in his first eight games for the club, I’ve always harboured one or two doubts about his technical ability. His inhuman work rate and slightly wayward touch of the ball can make him seem a bit of a headless chicken in some respects and I doubted whether he could make it as a Premiership player. His performances against Spurs, Man City and now Cyrpus (not a great international side but not in the Andorra or San Marino bracket by any means, their club sides are starting to progress in European competitions) say otherwise. His control seems to have improved, particularly when running with the ball. This, coupled with his strange build which sees almost ballerina like legs topped with WWE style shoulders topped off with a tattoo of a Chinese dragon with a dopey face, make him very difficult to shake off the ball and stop when in full flight. If this tricky attacking play can be married to his renowned defensive work rate and a little more game intelligence we could have a real player on our hands.
I still have my doubts, but having totally written him off as a Premiership on the message board a month ago I’ve now sent the jury back out for further consideration.
So where does this leave Adel Taarabt? You only have to look at the contrasting team performances in the first and second halves at Spurs to see how much more secure and balanced we are with Mackie playing than Taarabt. That said, Taarabt was certainly not the only culpable party member at White Hart Lane with Shaun Derry and Joey Barton also poor in the first half. The Moroccan is ability wise the best player we have, but he’s also the laziest – in many ways he’s the complete opposite to the hard working but technically limited Mackie. Last season he could break teams apart for fun, this season he’s been unable to do that so far and therefore we’ve been getting all of his bad points for none of his good. We can’t afford to carry him in the top flight.
I do think he’s suffering from a pre-season spent mostly courting a move to Paris rather than training. It’s clear as the flab on his thighs that he’s heavier than he was last season and less fleet of foot. He’s also playing a more disciplined role wide on the left rather than the free position he enjoyed last season – he’s trying to track back more and pass the ball, but it’s not his game. There were times at Spurs when he could have taken his man on and didn’t. Lack of confidence? Unlikely with Adel, more likely acting under orders.
Tomorrow's Mirror says QPR are "braced" for a £20m offer for Taarabt from Paris SG in January. Given the way he's started life in the Premiership I presume that's the lesser used 'braced' as in 'starving man braced for lottery win' or 'lost desert exploration party braced for fresh water find'.
Jamie Mackie has come back from an absence from the first team a vastly improved player – adding things to his game that weren’t there previously. If he’s now going to usurp Taarabt in Neil Warnock’s first choice 11 then the reigning Championship Player of the Year has to do the same in due course.
Has an England victory over the reigning world champions ever been met with such apathy as the weekend success over Spain? I’m afraid I was in the camp that thought the whole thing was a God awful waste of time despite the positive result.
I rarely see much point or benefit to these international friendlies to be honest, but having scheduled them the target must be to try new things and learn as much as we can about players for when it becomes really competitive. What did we learn on Saturday night? That if you string nine players out across the defence sometimes you get lucky and win 1-0 from a set piece? We probably knew that before, Paul Hart has had six managerial jobs in his career based on exactly that.
Joleon Lescott seemed to enjoy the best of the after match press – you may remember him completely failing to deal with 34-year-old Icelandic international striker Heidar Helguson the week before. So what did we learn there? That Joleon Lescott might be alright if you surround him closely with eight other defenders and a goalkeeper? And where is the learning and long term planning in the selection of Frank Lampard as captain? Six weeks ago, with Jack Wilshere and Steven Gerrard injured, Lampard wasn’t in the starting 11 for competitive games because Fabio Capello believed he had better options – suddenly now he’s the captain.
I copped a bit of stick on the message board for claiming that had Spain needed to win the game then they would have done – even despite England’s parking of the bus. Thankfully poster ManinBlack, presumably not smacked up to his tits on Beechams Cold and Flu, was on hand to back me up with some stats. He says…
Since Spain qualified for the 2008 Euro's when they have had to win they have done so. After qualifying they went on to win the 2008 tournament. Then they won all ten of their qualifiers to get to the 2010 World Cup before winning that as well. They have won all eight of their qualifiers to get to the 2012 Euro's which suggests when Spain have to win a game that matters they do so.
If you look at Spain's friendlies their record is not quite so impressive. Since September 2010 they have lost 4-1 to Argentina, 4-0 to Portugal, 2-1 to Italy and now 1-0 to England which suggests they have a bit of a mental siesta and are not giving 100% in these sort of games.
Tonight Spain followed up the England defeat with a 2-2 friendly draw against the mighty Costa Rica, who led 2-0 at half time and 2-1 in injury time. Prosecution rests.
Strangely I took much more out of the low key, and pretty dull, Tuesday night match with Sweden. Here there were positives and negatives – but most importantly there were lessons, and important experiences for young players. On this evidence we can with some confidence call on Jack Rodwell, Phil Jones and Kyle Walker for big competitive internationals and they will be better players with these minutes on their CVs. I’d like to have seen Daniel Sturridge given more game time but Bobby Zamora’s hour did confirm that he should be left in the category of ‘decent league player’ rather than promoted above his station.
The Sweden game was exactly what this sort of match should be about.
Pull the other one
Sneaking in right on copy deadline, Barcelona chief Sandro Rosell who says the Premier League should be cut to 16 teams as soon as possible. Of course this would threaten our dear club’s recently won back Premiership status, so what could be so important as to do that?
Well, Rosell says: “The objective of reducing from 20 to 16 teams is to give more space to our players.”
So it’s the old player burn-out argument again. Except, actually, no. Because he also says: “Then, once the dates are liberated, these dates are not for the federations. The dates are for the clubs to organise friendly games or to increase the European competitions."
So it’s actually the old I like money and I’d like lots more of it argument.
This is why all the arguments about mid-winter breaks and player burn out should be completely ignored. If players are burning out, why are clubs playing 12 pre-season matches and flying off to Thailand and the USA every summer? Why not play six games here and have some rest if they're that bothered about it? I don’t know about you but it feels like QPR have hardly played at all this season – not a lot of danger of burn out down at Harlington where this latest two week abstinence has been spent paintballing and going to Dubai for the Grand Prix.
Arsene Wenger moaned like hell about Jack Wilshere going to the England Under 21 tournament in the summer because he said he’d played too much football. Then, with the player carrying an injury from international duty, he immediately took him to the other side of the world for a pre-season friendly procession in the Far East where lo and behold he exacerbated the problem and is likely to be out for most of this season.
Grant these big clubs less matches in the name of player burn out and they’ll quickly find ways to exploit them for shirt selling and money making exercises all over the world. Meanwhile the likes of us will either lose their league place, or the revenue from fixtures no longer taking place, or both.