Martin Taylor: 'What Eduardo has said has shown that he is a great man'
Exclusive: In his first interview since that tackle, Martin Taylor talks to Sam Wallace
Friday 29 February 2008
Martin Taylor has a pile of printed emails passed on to him from Birmingham City that tell their own story about the events of last Saturday. They are from supporters of, among others, Arsenal, Aston Villa, Liverpool, Blackburn, Huddersfield Town and Hull City and these ordinary football fans all say the same thing: that they know Taylor never intended to hurt Eduardo da Silva in that tackle at St Andrew's.
Meet Taylor himself and you would be in no doubt of the nature of the man. He is a genial, intelligent Geordie and a busy father of three boys who is studying for an Open University degree for the time when he finishes playing football. He has been deeply affected by the week's events but his immediate thoughts in the aftermath of the injury to Eduardo were that he wanted the Arsenal striker to know that he never meant to hurt him. The 28-year-old realises that football is a game in which every fan has an opinion but he is at a loss to explain the anger that has been directed at him from some people.
Taylor's life has not been made any easier over the last seven days by the comments made by Arsène Wenger on Saturday that he should be banned for life – which the Arsenal manager subsequently retracted. Wenger may have taken back his initial comments to the press but, as the death threats have been made this week, it has been difficult for Taylor and his family to forget them. "People will say he is not the type of guy who does that," Wenger said on Saturday. "But it is like a guy who kills only once in his life. There is still a dead person."
By the time Wenger came to retract his comments on Saturday evening – just in time for Match of the Day – the Sunday newspapers already had their headlines. At his press conference today, Wenger will have the first opportunity to make a fuller apology to Taylor who, in the last week, has been the subject of more than 80 death threats which have been sent to Birmingham City. Yet, in our conversation, there is no doubt that Taylor's chief concern is the well-being of Eduardo and the complete recovery of the Arsenal striker. Taylor wants to be absolutely clear: he had no intention to hurt Eduardo.
"All I remember was him going deep into midfield, turning and taking a touch," Taylor said. "I felt he showed me enough of the ball to win it. In my head I definitely thought I could get that ball. There was never any intention to hurt him. It is not in my mentality to be premeditated or hurt someone. I'm not even the type to be physical with an opponent to 'show him that I am there'. It was just a fact that I thought the ball was there to win and – as other people have said – Eduardo was too quick for me.
"I couldn't stop myself but at the time I didn't think that. All the time I was going for the tackle I thought I was going to win the ball and get it up the pitch and away from the box – which is my job. It was just very strange. At the time I can't remember there being that much contact, all I can remember is the Arsenal players around – [Cesc] Fabregas and [Mathieu] Flamini – and the shock on their faces. I looked back and saw the horror of his leg. Then I just instantly went blank.
"The referee gave me a red card straight away and at that point I went over to Eduardo. And then I thought, 'I just have to get off this pitch'. When I got back to the changing rooms I waited for 10 minutes while he came off the pitch and asked whether I could see him. I was told he had gone straight to hospital. I just wanted to know how he was."
The emails of support for Taylor, who is suspended for Birmingham's game tomorrow against Tottenham, have come from all sorts of people. There are messages of sympathy from those who have themselves been involved in or endured bad injuries playing football, cricket or rugby. There are fans from Taylor's former club Blackburn who know that the 6ft 4in player – nicknamed "Tiny" – is not a man who is malicious by nature. They have been a comfort to a player who was as horrified as any other by the scope of Eduardo's injury and then the reaction of those who said it was intentional.
"There are people who look at it very differently," Taylor said. "Hopefully, that is the minority who are angry for whatever reason. On the internet people can say things and there is no accountability. Getting death threats is difficult to cope with, it has been difficult for my family to cope with. Hopefully, people will move on. But this week has been difficult."
He has also drawn great encouragement from the reaction of Eduardo. While others have sought to find a villain, the Croat has rationalised his injury, and that he will miss the Euro 2008 finals, in the most simplistic way. "Shit happens," was the Brazilian-born player's take on his injury. "I see this as a risk in professional football. Sometimes you go up, sometimes you go down," he said. It is an attitude that has impressed Taylor immensely. Taylor added: "I saw an interview with Slaven Bilic [the Croatia manager] who said Eduardo wasn't just a great footballer, he was a great man as well. That's clear to me too. I just hope he and his family can get through it and he can recover.
"What he [Eduardo] has said in the press has been fantastic and has shown that he is a great man. It was very noble of him to say that. Hopefully, it has calmed the situation and he understands that in football it can happen. It was a freak accident and I just think that everyone now needs to concentrate on Eduardo getting better."
Plenty of people from within football have been in touch with Taylor, a former England Under-21 player, to offer support and encouragement. He has spoken to Steve Bruce, his former manager at Birmingham; Graeme Souness, who was his manager at Blackburn, and Preston manager Alan Irvine, who was also at Blackburn, the club Taylor spent seven years with before joining Birmingham in 2004. Glenn Roeder, his manager while on loan at Norwich this season, has also phoned. Taylor knows that when the suspension has been served he will have to pick himself up and get on with being a professional footballer again.
"I have had a lot of advice from players and managers how to cope with that," Taylor said. "To be a professional footballer, especially a defender, you have to tackle and compete with your opponents. I need to make sure I can do that. My team-mates have all been really supportive in the press and in the changing room. When I play the first game there will be nerves, but I know nothing like that will happen again. It was a freak accident. It can't be on your mind when you go into a tackle."
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