Leicester luxuriate in Taylor's fine start

New manager's England ejection set to benefit Filbert Street side at The Dell today as former young lions coach faces mentor Hoddle in the Premiership.
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The Independent Online

His success was limited and his departure painful but, having swiftly introduced David Beckham, Paul Scholes and Michael Owen to the national colours, Glenn Hoddle's time as England coach was not without lasting benefit. However, since players of that calibre would ultimately have been capped whoever was picking the team, Hoddle's most significant legacy could yet be one of his least heralded selections.

His success was limited and his departure painful but, having swiftly introduced David Beckham, Paul Scholes and Michael Owen to the national colours, Glenn Hoddle's time as England coach was not without lasting benefit. However, since players of that calibre would ultimately have been capped whoever was picking the team, Hoddle's most significant legacy could yet be one of his least heralded selections.

One of the first moves Hoddle made as England coach, back in the summer of 1996, was to telephone an old Spurs team-mate who was then working in the professional game's hinterland, combining managing Dover Athletic with being the director of Southend United's school of excellence.

At Filbert Street this afternoon, for the umpteenth time, Peter Taylor will thank Hoddle for making that call. Then the new manager of Leicester City will seek to extend his team's unbeaten start to the Premiership season at the expense of the Southampton team his mentor now manages.

"I can't thank Glenn enough," Taylor said when we met in his office at Leicester's neat training ground on Thursday. "It is down to his bravery in giving me the job when I was in the Conference that I am here.

"We're friendly rivals," he added. "We speak regularly, I like his company and look forward to seeing him and John Gorman [Hoddle's assistant with club and country]. I hope we can enjoy a glass after the game."

While Hoddle, after a traumatic departure from Lancaster Gate, is seeking to rebuild his career at The Dell, Taylor's reputation has blossomed to the extent of being mentioned by the Football Association as a potential England coach. That would be extremely ironic since, having survived Hoddle's forced resignation, he was pushed out of the FA 15 months ago by Howard Wilkinson's reforms.

Taylor, who left a distraught Under-21 team behind, picked himself up at Gillingham, inspiring the Kent club to the most successful season in their history. While Wilkinson's young lions crashed out of the European Under-21 Championship they had qualified for under Taylor, Gillingham reached the previously uncharted heights of the Nationwide League First Division and the FA Cup sixth round.

Having been unable to finalise a contract with Gillingham, Taylor caught the eye of several clubs but it took the combination of Leicester's solid Premiership progress and their European place - they meet Red Star Belgrade in the Uefa Cup on Thursday - to lure him away. While many a manager taking over a struggling team would envy Taylor's fortune at joining such a well-run outfit, following the idolised Martin O'Neill carries its own pressure. But so, on a more local level, did succeeding Tony Pulis at Priestfield.

"It is similar and that is why I was ready for this," Taylor said. "Like Martin, Tony was very successful and very popular. When you take over a struggling team I think you can go in and say anything to the same bunch of players and they will believe you: you have a licence to be different. Here I have got to change things slowly. The players know I won't do exactly the same as Martin but I would have been mad to come in and change it straight away."

At Priestfield, Taylor changed a physical and direct team to a passing side with only limited changes in personnel and Leicester fans can expect a similar shift in style. "I'm asking them to play a bit more and letting them know how highly I rate them, not just their spirit but their ability as well," said Taylor, who was given a boost before the season started when the influential midfield pair Neil Lennon and Muzzy Izzet joined the centre-half Matt Elliott in signing new contracts.

The Leicester players have already noticed that Taylor spends a lot more time on the training pitch than O'Neill, who left much of the coaching to his assistants. One of them, Robbie Savage, said of the new boss: "It was difficult to follow Martin but the gaffer's been brilliant. He's helped me as a player already. He's helped me with my technique, giving me a lot of confidence and I'm enjoying it."

The emphasis on evolution means that only Ade Akinbiyi and Gary Rowett, of the six players Taylor has signed for £11.5m, are in the starting XI. All, following O'Neill's principles, are also UK-born.

Taylor said: "I get loads of phone calls and videos about players who are the best thing since sliced bread and all that but I don't know anything about them. The foreign players I know, we can't afford, so I have gone for players whose characters I trust, who will suit us and our wage bill. If there is a foreign player out there who is the right one I will sign him but, until then, I'll stick with British."

The consequence is a team sitting third in the table who are still to concede a goal in open play. Only Jim Magilton, with a late penalty consolation for Ipswich in midweek, has beaten the revived Tim Flowers. Darren Eadie, who played for Taylor with England Under-21s, is another player thriving under him while Stan Collymore, after reports that the striker was unhappy at being left out, was outstanding when introduced at half-time on Wednesday.

"The reports were blown out of all proportion," said Taylor. "Stan had lost a bit of fitness with an Achilles problem and with that you have to be careful. He was disappointed because he had been raring to go after his injury last season but he was brilliant when he came on and I hope we can keep him like that.

"He has an unbelievable talent and is a really nice bloke. I will treat him the same as anyone else but I think he likes loyalty and all that. He knows I am desperate for him to be successful and believe there is no reason why he should not play for England again."

Ah, England. On Taylor's office wall, proudly facing his desk, is a photograph of him with the Under-21 team. You would think, after seeing what happened to Hoddle, that he would know better but he admitted to feeling a frisson of excitement when he heard Adam Crozier, chief executive of the FA, had picked him out as an example of a promising young English coach.

Maybe it was being called young at 47 but he said: "My immediate thoughts are to be a success here but it is lovely to be mentioned. Just as every player wants to play for his country, if you are a manager you've got to want to manage at the highest level.

"What happened to Glenn has not put me off. If the time was right, if I'd earned it by being successful here over a few years, it would be an honour. I've seen the job at close range - Glenn was very good at encouraging me to go to press conferences, to look and learn - and I'm going grey anyway."

The England job may well come in the future but, for the moment, a more mundane task awaited as Taylor headed off to his new house in the Leicestershire countryside to erect curtain rails in preparation for the arrival of his wife, Janet. The head may be going grey but there is no sign of it swelling.

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