By Chris Dunlavy
An England player in the Third Division. A table-topping manager with Leicester City. A globe-trotting career in India, Bahrain and New Zealand.
Peter Taylor has seen it all. Yet there is one match – and one decision – for which the 65-year-old will forever be remembered.
When Kevin Keegan resigned in the Wembley toilets after England’s defeat to Germany in October 2000, the FA needed a caretaker. Taylor, flying with Leicester and a former England Under-21 manager, fitted the bill.
It was never an audition. “The job wasn’t up for grabs,” says Taylor, now in charge at Dagenham & Redbridge, his 20th post of an eclectic 32-year career. “I was under no illusions about that.”
But that didn’t stop Taylor making his mark. First was a team straight out of the creche; six players eligible for the Under-21s, including early appearances for Rio Ferdinand and Jamie Carragher.
Most eye-catching of all, however, was his choice of captain: David Beckham. A hate figure after his petulant red card at the 1998 World Cup, few had the fashion icon down as leadership material, especially at the age of 25. Taylor’s decision sparked a media storm, yet Beckham would go on to lead England for the next six years.
“Yeah, it turned out to be a decent choice in the end,” laughs Taylor, who won his four England caps whilst playing for Crystal Palace in the third tier. “But the funny thing is, I look back now and it probably was a mistake.
“It really should have been Gareth Southgate or Gary Neville. It was maybe a little bit too early for David but I just saw something in him. And he turned out to be a very well-respected captain so it wasn’t just me.
“People always talk about that decision, but I’ve always said that the best thing I did that night was to show the next manager (Sven- Goran Eriksson) that we had good young players who could handle playing for their country.
“Ever since then, I think the England squad has got younger. You look at this World Cup and the average age is 26 – the lowest at the entire tournament. Harry Kane is captain at 24.
“Even the Under-21s have got younger. There are a lot more 18 and 19-year-olds these days. The emphasis is on ability, not experience – which is how it should be.”
Taylor’s trust in youth yielded five promotions in the EFL, the most recent coming with Wycombe Wanderers in the 2008-09 campaign.
He also flitted in and out of the England set-up, helping to turn the likes of Gareth Barry, Emile Heskey and James Milner into full internationals.
“It’s very rewarding to see how many of our lads got senior caps for England,” says Taylor, who also worked with Harry Kane at Under-20 level.“Unfortunately for me, it does show my age because most of them are getting on now – even James Milner.
“I never thought he’d get old, that boy. He’s the fittest player and the best professional I’ve ever worked with. He was absolutely brilliant.”
Yet it was on his travels that he was able to fully indulge his penchant for chucking kids in at the deep end.
First came a spell in charge of Bahrain, where a culture of seniority and respect was clogging supply lines.
“I took over a team that was older than it should have been, and probably not fit enough,” recalls Taylor, who took over amidst the pro-democracy uprising in 2011.
“I put a load – and I mean a load – of youngsters in the team and we won two tournaments. Those lads were grateful for the opportunity because I don’t think the previous manager would ever have looked at them. It just wasn’t how things worked.
“Off the pitch, things were difficult. But I’ve got such happy memories of that time because I was able to open the door for those boys.”
Next – after an ill-fated return to Gillingham – Taylor was named manager of Kerala Blasters in the Indian Premier League.
“One thing they do very well is that you have to play six Indian lads in the team,” he said. “To me, that shows a lot of respect for their own development as a football nation and it would be great to see it bear fruit on the international stage. A few other nations could learn from that.”
Given Dagenham’s straitened status, Taylor’s willingness to work with youth is critical. The Essex outfit came close to collapse last season and, despite a firesale of players, remain on the breadline.
Manager John Still defected to Barnet. Earlier this month, an appeal was launched to find the £110,000 required to see out the season. Just 13 players are on the books and Taylor – who arrived on June 5 – must now beg, borrow and steal whatever he can.
“This is a good club in a bad situation,” he says. “They’re in a bit of a jam at the moment and I wanted to get them out of it.
“Is it ideal? No, of course not. Are we looking to win the National League. No, not a chance under these conditions.
“But I think I know enough people in the game – enough players and enough contacts – to build a decent team. We’re going to be competitive, we’ll be organised, we’ll be young. We’ll have a very good spirit and we’ll give it a go.”
The last time Taylor managed in the Conference, he bombed at Stevenage and faced accusations of being a bit, well… big time. Ten years on, the man himself insists that perception couldn’t be further from the truth.
“I don’t think football owes anyone a living,” says Taylor, who spent last season scouting the National League for Portsmouth manager Kenny Jackett.
“I don’t think a name or a reputation or past achievements should guarantee anyone a top job. I’m not giving you any rubbish here. I really believe that. If the phone rings and someone offers you a job in football – at whatever level – that is a privilege.
“I’ve been involved in football for 95 per cent of my professional life. I’d class myself as very fortunate. And what I’ve learned is that you can have the best players in the world and the best equipment and it doesn’t guarantee success any more than if you’re managing people who need a bit more help.”
*This article originally featured in The @NonLeaguePaper which is available every Sunday and Monday
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