Matthew Taylor: Matt's life with the stars, but they're no Big-time Charlies

The Pompey midfielder is known for his long-range shooting. Nick Townsend talks to an eloquent player who is creating his own lustre
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The Independent Online

There's a modern football adage that you know you're going up in the world when your club's acquisitions are known by a single name. Down on the South Coast, Lauren joined his former Arsenal team-mate Kanu this week. So, now Pompey boast four. That's Kanu, Lauren, Sol and 'Arry...

True, the latter pair - Sol Campbell and Harry Redknapp - may be pushing the point, but what can't be doubted is Pompey's transformed status in the Premiership hierarchy, as last season's relegation fighters now possess the personnel to become this season's European sighters.

Though cynics might contend that Lauren's arrival is a case of "another day, another Arsenal cast-off", none, except perhaps Andrew Cole, at 35, have attained veteran status, and if there is a manager capable of rekindling the fires of ambition within a player it is Redknapp.

Yet, amid such arrivals, the Pompey manager has astutely ensured continuity, maintaining a solid foundation of personnel who seem to have been around as long as Fratton Park has been an example of modern football architecture. One of those, Matthew Taylor, sits in the canteen at Portsmouth's training ground, nodding as team-mates arrive for work and, like an old salt on the jetty, offers his approval of the changes around him.

He is still only 25, but in the four-and-a-half years since he was signed for £400,000 from Luton during Redknapp's first stint here, he has seen them arrive - players, managers, coaches, owners - and watched many depart. During that time, he has experienced the whole gamut of emotions, from the exhilaration of the promotion run of 2003 to the moment when it was all hands on deck last season to resist the tyranny of relegation.

Since then Redknapp, as adept at evaluating prime footballing stock as a master butcher at Smithfield expertly surveying a side of beef, has been doing what he does best. Dealing. Persuading. And, all the time, continuing to resemble a manic depressive when all around him suggests the contrary.

"The profile of the club has changed completely, exceeded everybody's expectations this season, because of the quality of footballers coming here," says Taylor. "Now we have a playing staff of international calibre. Look at Lauren, who's joined us today. It speaks volumes about where this club is going. It was a massive coup to get Sol, David James and Andrew Cole, and Kanu has come in and done fantastically well."

But was there not sometimes a sense of awe, maybe even of trepidation, as such expensive, lustrous talent was assembled around him? "Maybe when I'm 40 or older, I'll look back and think, 'God, I played with Sol Campbell; I played with David James', these footballers who command so much respect because of what they've achieved. But you look at those of us around them, and realise that me, Sean [Davis], Gary [O'Neill] and Linvoy [Primus], we've kicked on to another level. That's because we're good footballers within ourselves, but also because we want to be able to play with the calibre of footballer we've got coming in.

"Some [of Redknapp's signings] are massive names, but none regard themselves as Big-time Charlies. We're just players fighting for the same cause. And everybody's chipping in with goals; especially the front players." In fact, especially Matthew Taylor, though "chipping in" may be somewhat understating his contribution at times. He is the season's second-highest scorer at the club, boasting six goals from midfield. No wonder Redknapp values the former England Under-21 international so highly.

As do the Fratton faithful. Spectators love a player who eschews caution and who will have a shy at goal, even from the most improbable range, and Taylor's 46-yard volley which dipped over the Everton goalkeeper Tim Howard in last month's match will remain an indelible memory.

The scorer smiles wryly at the memory. "It was instinctive. My first touch was that bad; it was Pedro [Mendes], I think, who played the ball to me, and I lost it under my foot. Fortunately, Kanu managed to get a toe in, it sat up beautifully, and I just hit it. It could have flown over; nine times out of 10 it would.

"The manager would probably have said to me, 'What the bleedin' hell were you doing? Pass it simple'. But it was nice to see it fly in."

And enjoyable to read the ensuing reports linking him to England's senior squad? "It was nice to be in the headlines, but that's not the most important thing. If it is, you get yourself in an individual sport like golf or tennis," he says. "We've got 11 guys who, regardless of how much ability they've got, are prepared to go out and give 110 per cent and do the horrible bit of the game first."

But, you persist, an England opportunity must now be among his aspirations? "It's not something that's paramount in my mind," he responds. "That's not the kind of person I am. The important thing for me is to make sure I keep my Portsmouth shirt, and perform well. What I will say is that you tend to play well if you're playing with better players. Yes, people have spoken about me being involved in some kind of England squad, but I'd have to say there's four or five other guys here who should also be involved."

For which Redknapp can accept much of the credit. "He's an old-school manager, does things his way. He has got that certain air about him that makes you want to play for him," says Taylor. "He has a very good knack of signing players who you wouldn't think would want to come here. Tactics-wise, he's spot-on, and he has the knack of giving a kick up the backside to those who need it, and an arm round those who need it."

Taylor concedes he has some experience of the former. "I had a couple of kicks up the backside a couple of years ago. I think I'd probably done a couple of things wrong in a game. But it was nothing personal. You take it; then you forget about it. The manager knows best. To be honest, Harry's very easy to play for. You know when you've done wrong." He pauses, then adds: "Maybe in 15 years' time I'll be the one dishing out criticism."

Next Saturday, Pompey travel to Old Trafford for a fourth- round FA Cup encounter. For once, on such an occasion, Pompey do not have to consider Premiership survival as their priority. If they could eliminate Manchester United, maybe after a replay, who knows their destiny? But first they have to negate Cristiano Ronaldo's prowess.

"I've had the pleasure, or perhaps I should say the displeasure, of marking him," says Taylor, his features creased with a mock grimace. "He's an immense talent. He's scoring goals from all over the pitch. He's quick, he's strong, he's got amazing technique, superb feet, and can head the ball. He can complicate the game with step-overs; he can make the game easy by pushing the ball past you and running. Last season people said the end product wasn't there, but he's been fantastic."

And his capacity for going to ground? "I think he's eradicated the bits from his game that every-body was complaining about. I'd think that was partly down to his manager. He's come back a stronger person for what happened in the World Cup. He could easily have folded under the pressure. But it has driven him on. I would pay the admission fee to go and watch him."

After we speak, Taylor departs for a morning's training. Then it's off house-hunting. The Oxford-born player, his wife Hannah and 16-month-old daughter Georgia live in Wantage, Oxfordshire, but are attempting to buy a second home closer to Portsmouth. The couple met while Hannah was at university, studying for a degree in business management.

You suspect that this eloquent son of an architect could have found his niche in one of the professions if football had not inter-vened. "When I was at school, it was imperative to my father that I did well. I did consider being an architect, like him, but I probably wouldn't have had the patience. As it was, I fell on my feet in the world of football."

With the corresponding rewards, which for many become as much a burden as a blessing. "We're given so much so young," he agrees. "We're given financial gain. We're given adoration from the fans. In some cases, millions of fans. I really can't imagine what it would be like to be someone like a Beckham or Rooney or Ronaldo, and not have a private life, and still perform week in, week out."

His daughter's birth has changed his own outlook. "My wife use to say I was a nightmare," he admits. "I was inconsolable when I came home and we'd lost or I'd played badly. Now all I want to think about when I get home is bring up my daughter correctly, instilling the correct things in her. I suppose you could say that she's given me the freedom to go and play football."

Life & Times: Long ranger from left field

Name: Matthew Taylor.

Born: 27 November 1981, Oxford.

Vital Stats: 5ft 11in, 12st 3lb.

Nickname: Matty.

Position: Left wing-back or midfielder.

Club Career: Oxford Utd; Abingdon Utd; Luton Town 1998-2002 (146 games, 17 goals) - Young Player of the Year in first season; Third Division runners-up '02, PFA Player of the Year for Third Division; Portsmouth '02-current (transfer fee £400,000, rising to £750,000; 175 games, 25 goals) - First Division champions '03.

International Career: England Under-21s (3 caps); debut v Slovakia '02.

And Another Thing: Scored from 43 yards v Sunderland, 29 October '05; scored from 46 yards v Everton, 9 December '06.