Just over one year ago, Taye Taiwo appeared to have played his hand perfectly. Now he’s on his fourth team in 14 months, with his loan to Dynamo Kyiv completed on Tuesday. Few players who have experienced such a topsy-turvy year would be lucky enough to land on such a talented team. Now a member of one of Ukraine’s big two, Taiwo can look to restore some of the stock that made him a sought-after player last May.
An attack-minded left back who’d played his entire European career at Marseille, the Nigerian international had seen out his contract at Stade Velodrome and was free to move to whomever whispered the sweetest nothings. Under no obligation to compensate Marseille for a player they’d signed as a 20-year-old, clubs could justify a dice roll on Taiwo’s booming free kicks and ability to threaten the right side of a defense. One of Europe’s big clubs was sure to bite.
Just 26-years-old, it was a strange position for a player his age. Most soccer stars try to leverage the last year of their contract to force a sale. They can control where they want to go (by threatening not to sign off on the deal), get a new contract without waiting an additional year, pocket some money from the transfer fee while forgoing the injury risk of playing during their walk year. The only downside: What if nobody wants to buy you?
The deterrent of a transfer fee gone, Milan signed Taiwo shortly after the 2010-11 season ended. Along with Philippe Mexes (moving from Roma on a free), Taiwo was supposed to provide a needed infusion to Milan defense that was still used Alessandro Nesta, Mario Yepes, and Gianluca Zambrotta. But like Mexes, he didn’t quite work out. Where Mexes was injury prone and out of shape, Taiwo never settled on the field. He quickly lost a spot that he never really earned, making only four league appearances for the Rossoneri. (Mexes is still part of Max Allegri’s squad.)
In January, Taiwo was sent to London on loan, joining a Queens Park Rangers squad arming themselves for a relation battle. Bobby Zamora, Djibril Cisse and countryman Nedum Onuoha also signed on with Mark Hughes’s team, the club barely surviving their return to first division soccer. Taiwo was a regular for QPR, chipping in a goal in 15 league appearances, but he’d never played in a league like England’s. A career spent in France and Italy had produced a player that seemed ponderous at times, mechanical at others. Taiwo had stopped flashing his athleticism. He was a heavy foot and little else. QPR would decline to exercise their option to buy.
After seven seasons with one club, Taiwo finished 2011-12 having played for three teams (in three countries) in the preceding 12 months. Still on Milan’s books, the 27-year-old was returning to a club unlikely to use him. A couple of strong preseason performances didn’t matter. It would have been more surprising for Taiwo to make Milan than go out on loan.
Taiwo’s fall from grace has been swift, part of the reason why there’s hope for his future. As recently as 2011 he was named to Ligue 1’s team of the year (this third such honor in four years). Can a good thing turn bad so quickly? It seems unlikely. Taiwo was very good for Marseille – good enough to draw Milan’s interest.
While he has failed to carry that success to Italy, Taiwo remains confident in his ability.
“I know what qualities I have and I know that some clubs are interested in me,” he told Sky Sport following his appearance against Juventus.
“I have never been able to show what I am capable of with Milan. I would love to play for a big club, but I don’t know if that will be possible, such is life.”
Ukraine will be a good launching pad – a change to restart his career. While the league is slowly gaining depth beyond its top two, Dynamo still gives Taiwo a chance to regain some of his swagger. He will be facing teams and players against whom he should excel. It’s up to him to prove he can, not only in the huge derbies against Shakhtar but in the week-in, week-out matches against the rest of the Premier League.
Perhaps a future with Milan isn’t for him. Max Allegri may have been handed a low risk dice roll he can’t use. But at least Taiwo could open up doors to another big club. Like Marseille.
Enjoy it while it’s up: Home video quality of Taiwo’s goal against Sunderland last season: