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Flashback: Massimo Taibi's gaffe against Southampton

‘The Blind Venetian’ endured a short but memorable stint as Manchester United’s goalkeeper.

WHEN PETER SCHMEICHEL left Manchester United after the ‘Treble’ success in 1999, it was always going to be impossible for the club to find a replacement who’d come close to the legendary Dane.

They started the following season with Mark Bosnich as first choice – newly acquired from Aston Villa. But the Australian picked up a hamstring injury in the third league game of the season and didn’t make his return until mid-October.

By that stage, Massimo Taibi’s United career was already over.

Soccer ManUtd Taibi Taibi was signed on the last day of August 1999 and played just four times for Manchester United. Source: WILCOCK PETER WILCOCK/PA Archive/Press Association Images

The Italian was signed on the final day of August and made his debut a few weeks later at Anfield where United won 3-2 and he was named Man of the Match, despite his error leading to Liverpool’s first goal.

Seven days later, he was first-choice again though United could only pick up a 1-1 draw at home to Wimbledon – Jordi Cruyff popping up with a late equaliser.

But it was against Southampton at Old Trafford when Taibi’s confidence began to crumble.

The Saints traveled to Manchester having lost their 10 previous encounters but they began superbly when their Latvian striker Marian Pahars conjured a delightful goal, beautifully nutmegging Jaap Stam before sweeping confidently inside Taibi’s near post.

But United responded through Teddy Sheringham and three minutes later, he turned provider when he curled in an excellent cross for Dwight Yorke to nod past Paul Jones, who moments earlier had made a scarcely-believable save.

But shortly after the restart, Matt le Tissier lined up a shot 25 yards from goal. The veteran didn’t execute the strike properly and the ball rolled towards Taibi, who got down on his knees and stretched out his arms to scoop it up. Inexplicably, as the majority of his United team-mates turned away and focused on a quick counter-attack, Taibi allowed the ball squirm through his hands and legs. He turned and watched in horror as it crept over the goal-line.

Source: LatviasMichaelOwen/YouTube

Another United player made an awful error later in the game – Mikael Silvestre, another new recruit, was dispossessed by Pahars who squared for le Tissier and he gleefully knocked it home with minimum fuss.

The game ended in a 3-3 draw but it didn’t affect United too badly. They still ended up as Premier League champions at a canter and finished 18 points clear of Arsenal. But mention the game to any United fan and Taibi’s name will instantly be recalled.

He featured once more for the side – another calamitous performance at Stamford Bridge where his early error allowed Gus Poyet give Chelsea the lead inside the opening minute. Later, there was a poor parry from a Franck Lebouef shot that gifted Poyet a second and the hosts a third. With less than 10 minutes left, Jody Morris drove a shot right through Taibi’s legs to compound the agony. Chelsea had humiliated the champions and racked up five unanswered goals.

After that, there was no turning back. Taibi skulked around Manchester for a while longer before returning to Italy and initially joined Reggina on loan before completing a permanent deal in the summer.

Italian Soccer - Serie A - Torino v Reggina Source: EMPICS Sport

Put in the context of his wider career, Taibi’s spell in the Premier League was an odd blip. Though he seemed to excel at a lower level. His longest and best-known stints came at Piacenza and Atalanta while he racked up a total of just 21 appearances at his two most high-profile clubs, AC Milan and United.

But, he didn’t allow his United experience get in the way. He played on for a further decade at the top level in Italy where he’s still regarded as a fine goalkeeper.

But any reference to Southampton is still sure to give him the shivers.

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About the author:

Eoin O'Callaghan

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