Odd route from Dover to England

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The Independent Online

The extraordinary ups and downs of Peter Taylor's coaching career hit a new high this weekend. Once he has had time to catch his breath, he may reflect on his days as manager at Dover Athletic, where he took on an extra job in charge of Southend United's youth academy to broaden his experience and make some extra pocket money.

The extraordinary ups and downs of Peter Taylor's coaching career hit a new high this weekend. Once he has had time to catch his breath, he may reflect on his days as manager at Dover Athletic, where he took on an extra job in charge of Southend United's youth academy to broaden his experience and make some extra pocket money.

Taylor's big break came four years ago when his friend and former Tottenham colleague Glenn Hoddle was appointed England's manager in succession to Terry Venables. When he told Dover officials that he was leaving to take up a new post, they might have imagined that a promotion to Welling United or even Southend was in line; jaws dropped and admiration soared when he revealed that the position was manager of the England Under-21 team.

"It was a brave decision by Glenn and I really appreciated what he did for me," Taylor said yesterday. "I learnt a lot from him and used to enjoy coming into the FA on days when he was there, when we could talk about the game." Derided at the time for surrounding himself with old Spurs mates - John Gorman and Ray Clemence were others - Hoddle had, after all, it appears, set up the beginnings of a process of continuity that England have half-heartedly begun from time to time, only to end up starting from scratch again.

Not that the path was smooth; Hoddle's abrupt rejection after unwisely being led off the point in a newspaper interview, led, circuitously, to Taylor leaving when Howard Wilkinson took over as technical director.

Magnanimously, he believes it may have been the making of him: "The technical director took over control of the Under-21s, so I didn't have the same freedom. So Howard and myself agreed I couldn't carry on doing the job. I felt it would be better if I went sooner rather than later, but it was three brilliant years. Howard and myself get on fine, and if I was technical director, I'd have done exactly the same thing."

The success achieved in those three years, and the rapport Taylor built up with the country's best young players, helped him get the manager's job at Gillingham, where his one season in charge led to FA Cup wins over Sheffield Wednesday and Bradford City and another roller-coaster ride in pursuit of promotion to the First Division for the first time in the club's history.

Defeat at Wrexham - his last match as a manager outside England - meant going into a play-off at Wembley, from which they emerged triumphant, but which meant a step up for Taylor to the big time with Leicester City.

After only 10 games at that level (four wins, four draws and, most recently, two defeats) he now finds himself an international manager. "What happened to Glenn has not put me off," he told the Independent recently. "I was going grey anyway." Regarded, flatteringly, as a young manager, he pointed out that at 47 he is five years older than Hoddle was and had the benefit during his three years at Lancaster Gate of watching - and occasionally working with - the senior squad and studying how the manager handled such irksome responsibilities as dealing with the media.

He was keen to reassure Leicester supporters, however, that his work for them will not be affected and may be enhanced. Taylor also believes he will work well with Steve McClaren, a view shared by one of the few players to have played under both at club level: Chris Powell, the Charlton full-back, who was at Southend (Taylor) and then Derby (McClaren), says that the two men are very much in tune.

The 39-year-old McClaren has the lower profile of the two, but is equally well respected within the game. After a journeyman's playing career as a midfielder with Hull City, Derby, Bristol City and Oxford United, he coached Oxford and then Derby before being picked out by Sir Alex Ferguson as the new first-team coach at Manchester United. That, ironically, was in succession to Brian Kidd, who was unable to make a success of things as his own man at Blackburn, but has also been called up into the England set-up.

Ferguson instructed his scouts to find the best man they could and he kept hearing the name of McClaren. "He's deeply impressed me and I expect him to go on to greater things," Sir Alex said last year. As usual, he was not wrong. Before too long, those things may involve choosing between becoming the new manager at Old Trafford or Derby, where Jim Smith, who intends retiring within 18 months at the most, wants to groom him as a successor.

McClaren should have been at his friend Smith's 60th birthday party yesterday. Instead he was enjoying a little celebration of his own. "It's a one-off, but it's an absolute honour and privilege," he said.

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