Cannonball kid Taiwo blows away Montpellier before heading for Milan

Taye Taiwo has always had a reputation as a Cannonball Kid. Once during his school days back in Lagos, the powerfully built youngster hit a shot so hard it knocked one of his friends out cold. The emergency services even had to be called. âÂÂAll the mums and dads came to my house,â Taiwo told RMC Sport. âÂÂThey started yelling and my father told me that I was going to have to give up football.âÂÂ

Fortunately, it didnâÂÂt come to that. The head teacher merely banned Taiwo from playing at break time and the thunderbolt on which he would build his reputation soon came to the attention of Pape Diouf, the former Marseille president, and José Anigo, the clubâÂÂs existing director of sport.

âÂÂI did not even know Marseille had sent a scout,â Taiwo shrugged. âÂÂNigeria played a friendly against South Africa and when I got home, my agent told me: âÂÂIn two weeks, youâÂÂre going to MarseilleâÂÂ. I told myself: âÂÂMarseille are a great club. How will I play for a team like that?â The self-effacing left-back was in for quite a culture shock. âÂÂThe airport was clean. It wasnâÂÂt like at home where nobody works and the people say: âÂÂIâÂÂm tired, IâÂÂm havenâÂÂt been paidâÂÂ.âÂÂ

Drafted in by Diouf and Anigo to replace the departing Bixente Lizarazu, a star struck Taiwo learned the ropes from Fabien Barthez. âÂÂI told myself: âÂÂLook, itâÂÂs Barthez who won the World Cup! I had my picture taken with him and sent it home to Nigeria. He spoke English. He helped me and told me how things were at Marseille. IâÂÂll always thank him for that.âÂÂ

Seven years later Taiwo is the longest-serving player on MarseilleâÂÂs current squad. His daughter Ahliyat even speaks with a Marseillais accent. But the Nigeria internationalâÂÂs time at the club hasnâÂÂt always been easy. He was never going to be afforded the same talismanic status reserved to fellow Africans Didier Drogba or Mamadou Niang during his time at OM.

A lack of positional sense and frequent lapses in concentration occasionally brought criticism from the fans and local journalists, and when Didier Deschampsâ reshuffled his defence last season, asking his anchorman Stephane Mbia to drop in at centre-back and Gabriel Heinze to play at left-back, Taiwo perhaps realised he was no longer assured of a place in MarseilleâÂÂs starting XI. 

After considering his options, the 26-year-old let it be known that he would not be renewing his contract at the end of the current campaign. But Taiwo wasnâÂÂt done with Marseille just yet. In fact, he would make his mark on the clubâÂÂs history in his own special way with a goal in SaturdayâÂÂs Coupe de la Ligue final against Montpellier at the Stade de France.

With 10 minutes remaining and extra-time on the horizon, Montpellier keeper Laurent Pionnier flapped at a Benoit Cheyrou free-kick only for the ball to fall to Taiwo on the edge of the box who cocked his weaker right foot and pulled the trigger, hitting a bobbling shot that found its way through a crowded penalty area and into the net.

It was enough to make Marseille the first club to retain the Coupe de la Ligue, but perhaps even more remarkably also meant that their fourth piece of silverware in 13 months under DD was on its way to the trophy cabinet after a 16-year title drought in La Vieux-Port. âÂÂEurope has José Mourinho,â wrote LâÂÂÃÂquipe. âÂÂFrance possesses Didier Deschamps.â The manager blushed. âÂÂItâÂÂs flattering to compare us, but he is more handsome than me.âÂÂ

Meanwhile, Taiwo was getting carried away in his celebrations. On the lap of honour at the end of the game he took hold of the microphone and led the Marseille fans in chants against the clubâÂÂs historic rivals Paris Saint-Germain. âÂÂThe Marseillais have come to Paris to f*** PSG,â he sang.

When asked about TaiwoâÂÂs little ditty in his post-match press conference, Deschamps said: âÂÂYouâÂÂve got good ears. You must be the only one who heard it.â He wasnâÂÂt, though, as across town, PSG were seething.

Their president Robin Leproux called his counterpart at Marseille, Jean-Claude Dassier, to express his dismay that this could be allowed to happen after all the hard work they have done to reduce tension between the two sets of supporters. Antoine Kombouaré, the PSG coach, also said: âÂÂItâÂÂs unacceptable. The club must take action. If tomorrow one of my players were to insult Marseille supporters, I would intervene.âÂÂ

A repentant Taiwo soon appeared in front of reporters, telling OMTV: âÂÂI want to apologise for what I sang into the microphone on Saturday. All my teammates told me that it was wrong to have done that and it made them feel sick in the heart. Now I feel bad for having done that. I was euphoric. We had to win and we sang. I apologise again.âÂÂ

Whether the LFPâÂÂs EthicâÂÂs Committee, who have since opened an investigation into TaiwoâÂÂs actions, will accept his excuses remains to be seen. Still, the âÂÂleaving presentâ he handed to Marseille fans on Saturday will live long in the memory and no doubt earns a place for him in their hearts. No one at the Vélodrome begrudges Taiwo a move to pastures new.

TuesdayâÂÂs LâÂÂÃÂquipe claimed he had reached an agreement with Milan to join on a three-year deal ahead of next season, although according to La Gazzetta dello Sport itâÂÂs contingent upon whether he can secure a French passport so the clubâÂÂs one non-EU spot can be kept free for Santos playmaker Paulo Henrique Ganso.

As for Marseille, the double-double is now very much on the cards. LilleâÂÂs 1-1 draw at Lorient on Sunday means Deschampsâ side can go top for the first time since November if they win their game in hand at home to Nice this evening. âÂÂOur destiny is in our hands,â Cheyrou told RMC Sport. âÂÂIf we win all our matches, we will be champions.âÂÂ

In that case, itâÂÂs perhaps best to keep Taiwo away from the microphone.

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