Reviving the Premier League players you forgot existed…
The football-mad pop singer Robbie Williams was riding high on the wave of superstardom in May 1998. The power ballad Angels was being belted out by drunk revellers across the country every night of the week and his latest smash, Let Me Entertain You, briefly fostered a notion that he was some kind of bona-fide rock god. So you can imagine the excitement of the 5,205 crowd gathered at Vale Park when the former Take That heartthrob took to the field for his beloved Port Vale in a testimonial match for the club’s former defender, Dean Glover, against Aston Villa. It was a lovely occasion, but it took an unexpectedly brutal turn midway through the first half when Villa’s left-back came clattering through Williams with a crunching challenge. The crowd gasped as the fun-loving pop star collapsed to the turf, his trademark cheeky grin wiped away in a flash. All eyes turned to his unfamiliar assailant, who showed little remorse for inflicting injury on an English national treasure as he received a yellow card. It turned out he was an Australian trialist making his one and only appearance in a Villa shirt. His name was Danny Tiatto.
This story will be unsurprising to anyone who followed the remainder of Tiatto’s career, in which he played a further 241 games in England - first at Manchester City and then at Leicester – and claimed countless other victims with his enthusiastic tackling style.
“A true Blue legend and a real f****** nutter,” was how one Citizens fan on the Blue Moon website lovingly described the Melbourne-born defender, who retains hero status at the Etihad despite his limited technical ability. Imagine David Silva, but with a special talent for collecting yellow cards instead of assists.
“He liked to kick a Neville, I’ll always remember him fondly for that,” was how another fan remembered Tiatto, although the prematurely balding full-back had to wait a while before being let loose on any Premier League stars.
While today’s Manchester City is all about sexy Argies and wealthy Arabs, the club Tiatto joined in the summer of 1998 was at the lowest ebb in its history, having just been relegated to the third tier of English football for the first time.
After Tiatto’s trial at Villa came to nothing, City boss Joe Royle took a £300,000 punt on the player, signing him from Swiss club Baden. City’s fans packed out Maine Road every game that season, despite the often dismal fare on offer in what is now League One, and Tiatto’s role in the side that scrapped its way back into the top flight with successive promotions has not been forgotten.
“Tiatto was a great player. He lost it sometimes, but that endeared him to us even more - because of his passion,” was how one supporter put it, while another agreed, “He was a bit mental but he was great for us.”
Royle’s successor Kevin Keegan was similarly impressed, once claiming that “Danny Tiatto ran through brick walls for this club”, but the manager’s opinion evolved as the player’s fiery temper started to become a problem. After receiving the fifth of his six red cards in a City shirt in a match against Norwich, Tiatto responded by kicking some water bottles towards the Canaries’ bench, resulting in what he referred to in a 2013 interview with the MCFC Forum as “a bit of a fracas”.
“Kevin grabbed me by the neck and put me up against the wall. I grabbed him and shoved him up against the other wall and said, ‘If you ever touch me again, I’m going to f****** kill you’ So it got a bit heated,” Tiatto recalled.
Keegan’s reaction was equally memorable, as he announced, "As far as I’m concerned, Danny Tiatto doesn’t exist.”
And so the Australian left Manchester to validate his existence in another City, namely Leicester, but he is not as fondly remembered in the east Midlands.
“Awful footballer that summed up the period the club was going through,” was one fan’s summary on the Foxes Talk website, while others variously described Tiatto - who was employed mainly in midfield while at Leicester - as “horrendous”, “dreadful” and “dross”.
Even Tiatto’s 2005 Player of the Year award is dismissed as a result of the “shambolic” state of the club. But at least he was still good at fouling.
“Watching him go round cropping people a minute after the ball was gone was the comic relief of a terrible era,” was about the nicest thing any Leicester fan would say about Tiatto, who returned to his native A-League after picking up 29 yellow cards in three seasons at the Walkers Stadium.
He left behind many friends in Manchester, several enemies in Leicester and numerous wingers nursing the scars of his no-nonsense approach. In hindsight, Robbie Williams probably got off lightly.
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