Massimo Taibi was almost always a great goalkeeper
Reappraisal ~ Matthew Barker looks back on the career of Massimo Taibi and proposes that, asides from his two howlers at Manchester United, he was a very good goalkeeper
On August 31, 1999, Massimo Taibi signed for Manchester United from Venezia on a four-year deal for £4.5 million. He was highly rated. The Lagunari had just enjoyed one of their most successful seasons since the early 1960s and the 29-year-old was seen as a potential replacement for Peter Schmeichel.
The newly knighted Alex Ferguson didn't get on with Mark Bosnich (though Martin Edwards had been delighted to get the Australian in on a free transfer) and Ferguson was keen to play Taibi as his first-choice keeper. In his four United games, the Italian was given the man of the match award twice, including on his debut, a 3-2 defeat away at Anfield. He’s there in that famous photo of a teenage Michael Owen with head in hands in front of the Kop.
He was superb in a goalless draw against Wimbledon the following week, dealing with an onrushing Carl Cort in a succession of one-on-ones. However, against Southampton, Matt Le Tissier’s speculative, scuffed 25-yard punt bounced gently through the luckless keeper’s legs and across the line. The game ended in a 3-3 draw.
Famously, he partly blamed the length of the studs on his boots: “During the week I was asking for longer studs because the ones I have are too short. So maybe that was the reason as well, but there’s nothing I can do now. I’ve made the mistake and now I’m just trying to forget it.” A 5-0 hammering at Stamford Bridge a few days later sealed Taibi’s fate.
Eleven goals in four games is not a great return, but maybe instead of his studs, he would have been better off pointing the finger at his defenders. At the time, United had fellow newbie Mikael Silvestere, who really struggled in those early outings, a central pairing of Henning Berg and Jaap Stam that never truly clicked, and Denis Irwin, who was fast approaching his sell-by date.
Off the field, an administrative hiccup meant Taibi was ineligible to play in European competition, which interrupted his flow of games. With Roy Keane out injured and David Beckham’s frivolities in glossy magazines attracting Ferguson's wrath, the keeper became a scapegoat for an underperforming and occasionally shambolic United side. He swore he would never talk again to the tabloid press, who dubbed him the Venetian Blind (he is from Palermo).
In January 2000, Taibi returned to Italy, signing for Reggina, then in Serie A. He is still revered by fans of the Calabrian club (as he is at Venezia). Now retired, he recently took on the role of sporting director at Serie D side Montebelluna, in the Veneto region.
Last month, talking to a local Venetian newspaper, Taibi looked back on those few months at United: "I had only been to the stadium once before, when I was playing with Piacenza and we went along to visit the museum. More than a story, mine was a fairytale. It was the opportunity of a lifetime." Matthew Barker
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