One of the Nigerian stars to shine most brightly at the 2005 FIFA U-20 World Cup, Taye Taiwo was named the third best player in that tournament after scoring two goals as his side went all the way to the final before falling to Argentina. It was quite a recognition for a left back, and the 25-year-old Marseille player has gone from strength to strength to become one of the most exciting defenders in Europe. He was named CAF African Young Player of Year for 2006 after his performances with the French club lit up the Ligue 1. Fast, driven and possessing of a famously thumping shot, Taiwo could play a sizeable role for the Super Eagles at the 2010 FIFA World Cup™ after competing in nine qualifiers on the way to the finals. In fact, he has emerged as a leader of the new generation of players that is looking to re-establish Nigeria’s international reputation.
Having made his international debut in 2004 in South Africa at the Mandela Challenge, Taiwo signed for Marseille that same year from Lobi Star in his home country. Since then he has been part of the Super Eagles teams that finished third at the 2006 and 2010 CAF Africa Cup of Nations as well as reached the quarter-finals in the same tournament in 2008. It’s a measure of his precociousness that he scored in his AFCON debut to defeat Ghana, with a goal in the 85th minute no less. With the French giants he also won the Intertoto Cup in 2005 and reached consecutive French Cup finals in 2006 and 2007. He does have a reputation for letting his defensive responsibilities lapse, which is why he lost his place at the 2010 Cup of Nations to up-and-coming Elderson Uwa Echiejile after the opening 3-1 defeat to Egypt. He suffered a particularly embarrassing moment in the loss to the eventual champions when he turned his back on Ahmed Hassan’s long shot only to have the ball deflect off him and into his goal. But he was in good form for Marseille this year, scoring a classic long-range match-winner against Lyon towards the end of the season and captaining the side to their first silverware in 17 years: the French League Cup.