To many Premier League fans, especially those who support Man United, Massimo Taibi is widely considered one of the worst goalkeepers to ever guard the posts in England’s top-flight in recent decades.
Bought by United in 1999 for £4.5m from Venezia, the highly-rated Italian stopper was seen as the club’s long-term replacement for Peter Schmeichel, but his short stay at Old Trafford was littered with costly blunders and he left for Reggina in 2000 after just a handful of appearances.
But there’s certainly more than meets the eye to Taibi and his ill-fated spell with the Red Devils.
In a recent interview with AmericanGambler.com, the 50-year-old claims United were keen to keep hold of him despite his error-strewn beginnings with the club, and that it was his own decision to leave the Premier League giants.
It’s often said that he was forced out of the club after a nightmare start to his career in England, but in actuality Fergie practically ‘begged’ the goalkeeper to stick around.
“Of course, it was 100% my decision to leave Manchester United,” says Taibi, who’s now working as a sporting director for former side Reggina.
“I had a four-year contract. I remember, for example, Teddy Sheringham – who knew I had a serious family issue – asked me to stay.
“Even Sir Alex Ferguson begged me to wait, to go back to Italy for two weeks to try to resolve the issues and then come back to Manchester.”
While Taibi was mulling over his future ahead of the winter transfer window of 2000, United were about to compete in the inaugural Club World Cup competition in Brazil.
“The team had to go to Brazil for the Club World Cup and he [Fergie] said to me: ‘You don’t need to come with us. Stay and take the time to resolve your family issues and you re-join the team when we get back’.
“But in that moment, my family issues were just too big, so I decided that I had to leave – and that was my mistake, because Ferguson and my teammates helped me throughout my issue.
“In Italy, two weeks of holiday with that kind of human consideration that Sir Alex offered me, just doesn’t exist. I was just too impulsive.
“I realised soon after that I would not have been able to resolve my issues, and it would have been just the same if I had stayed in England, but it was too late. It’s the only football regret I had.”
The keeper initially went back to Italy on loan to Reggina and his deal was later made permanent following the arrival of France World Cup winner Fabien Barthez.
Taibi’s less-than-impressive spell with United during that season saw him become a target for tabloid headlines and gossip columns, and the former goalie still begrudges the things said about him at that time.
He says: “Look, I’m old now and I’ve normalised it. But, believe you me, it was so hurtful when every year they bring out this label: ‘The worst goalkeeper in Premier League history.’
“I’ve heard them all. It hurt me. Not because I think I think I’m this superstar – far from it – but I just feel on a human level that you can never judge an athlete on the back of four matches.
“I played four matches, of which two I played well and was named man-of-the-match and the others I didn’t.
“You destroy a goalkeeper after just four matches? It’s crazy. Maybe after six, seven months, okay. You were terrible after 25 matches, I’d get that, but for that to happen after four matches, it really hurt.
“But that was no one’s fault, simply mine for having to go through the issues that I was experiencing at the time. I should have tried to sort them and return to England, instead I was impulsive, I returned to Italy and I made a mistake.”
Taibi is perhaps best remembered in England for his infamous blunder against Southampton that resulted in Matthew Le Tissier scoring a goal; a moment that is often used in goalkeeping gaffe compilation videos.
But contrary to what many of us think we know about Ferguson, Taibi says the United gaffer backed him completely after the incident.
“He put his arm around me and told me not to worry and that these things happen,” Taibi said.
“For me, that wasn’t a terrible error as such, certainly not something to label you with for life, it was just one of those things which can happen to goalkeepers.
“I’ve seen plenty in England and Italy, believe me; going through the legs, it looks ridiculous, but it happens often. It’s not the first, it wasn’t the last.”
A week after United drew to Southampton in that game, Taibi was between the sticks again for the 5-0 thumping at Chelsea – a result that saw United drop behind the Blues in the Premier League table.
Recalling his final first-team outing for United, Taibi said: “Unfortunately, the week after, we went to Chelsea and lost 5-0 and, and as I couldn’t play in the Champions League having already been registered with Milan, Ferguson decided, rightly, to sit me out for a little, to give me time to learn the language.
“I played with the reserves, I needed that. I needed to understand English football.
“I had adjusted, I was ready to get back into the team and was due to play in Brazil but I had the family issues.
“Sometimes in life it’s just destiny; just as I was getting back into it, something like that happens.
“At the time, it was devastating. Now, looking back, I should have taken more time to come to the right decision.”
Despite all of the negativity in the press, Taibi says that fans in England were always very supportive towards him.
“In England, I never met one person who said a bad word to me about the error,” he added.
“Quite the contrary, people would support me; it was in Italy where they made a bigger deal of it because it was easier to say: ‘Taibi failed in England’, but in England, I had a great time.”
As a goalkeeper who knows what it’s like to be under the cosh at United, Taibi had some words of encouragement for current United No1 David De Gea – who’s experienced his own problems at Old Trafford recently following a number of high-profile errors.
Taibi is adamant De Gea will bounce back, saying: “De Gea is one of the best goalkeepers in Europe.
“In England, he has been incredible.
“Yes, you can have the odd game where it doesn’t quite go like you had hoped, but he is so good that he will easily rediscover his form.
“You just work hard and someone like him will come back stronger.
“For me, he’s a goalkeeper you can’t even judge. He is one of the best.”