Taylor the softly softly revolutionary

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The Independent Football

There are many reasons why Peter Taylor's appointment as manager of Leicester City was a drop of sanity in an ocean of off-season dementia. First, he is a decent footballing man; second, he is what used to be known as a tracksuit manager, which means he spends more time on the training ground than on the telephone; third, he knows the lower leagues and has bought exclusively from them; fourth, he has progressed to Premier League management the unfashionable way, via, in no particular order, Southend United, Dover Athletic, England Under-21s and Gillingham. His arrival at Filbert Street, in other words, bucks a trend which has for too long placed celebrity above qualification.

There are many reasons why Peter Taylor's appointment as manager of Leicester City was a drop of sanity in an ocean of off-season dementia. First, he is a decent footballing man; second, he is what used to be known as a tracksuit manager, which means he spends more time on the training ground than on the telephone; third, he knows the lower leagues and has bought exclusively from them; fourth, he has progressed to Premier League management the unfashionable way, via, in no particular order, Southend United, Dover Athletic, England Under-21s and Gillingham. His arrival at Filbert Street, in other words, bucks a trend which has for too long placed celebrity above qualification.

None of the above will matter a jot if, after 10 games, City are struggling and the shadow of Martin O'Neill is still darkening the managerial desk. But, in the sunshine last week, as the players ambled through the pre-season rituals, posing for the official team photo (exclusive to the Premier League) and answering desultory questions about the coming season, the air was not heavy with post-O'Neill depression.

The Irish wit may have departed to Glasgow, to be replaced by the flatter vowels of Estuary English - in the press room, at least, Taylor is Wise to O'Neill's Morecambe - but the overwhelming impression was of a club moving forwardnot looking back. For that, Taylor should gain much credit. Far from the expected exodus to Celtic, Muzzy Izzet, MattElliott and Neil Lennon, the heart of O'Neill's rugged side, have taken a look at the newcomer and put pen to paper on shiny new contracts. Lennon's signature was particularly talismanic.

Typically, Taylor accepts little credit for the ease of the transition. "It's not me," he says. "The players here like playing for the club and all credit should go to them." As Taylor talked, on the other side of the partition, his number one management problem child was detailing his latest state of mind to the press. Taylor has known Stan Collymore from his days at Southend and there is a sympathetic relationship between the two which augurs well for Leicester's goal tally. The complex Collymore is liable to respond rather better to Taylor's arm on the shoulder style than the kick up the backside methods favoured by John Gregory at Aston Villa, his former club. It is up to Collymore, Taylor says. Taylor can brew up a perfect storm if his considerable patience is pushed beyond the limit and Collymore will know that as well as anyone. It might be too early for the Leicester players to dispense with their earplugs just yet.

"I'm not much of a shouter, that's true," says Taylor. "What I'll be feeling inside is probably much the same as Martin, I'll just show it a bit differently. But I can get as angry as anyone, particularly if players do things I've told them not to." But the turf in front of the home dug-out, O'Neill's old stamping ground, should be less compacted by the end of the season.

Taylor pays due homage to O'Neill's minor miracles at Leicester and his defence of their much maligned methods owes as much to reason as diplomacy. Leicester were a better footballing side than they were given credit for, he says, while hinting that his own coaching will encourage more fluency and a greater tactical flexibility. "There's not a lot to change here, just minor things," Taylor says. "I've explained to the players that it's dangerous only to play one system because teams will change their systems to upset ours, so we might have to change. I think my experience in the Under-21s, playing against different formations, helped me with that."

In pre-season games, Leicester have switched systems constantly. "It's a matter of explaining to the players what I want and making any changes slowly but surely. The players know I want to pass the ball around more and to create decent chances. I've never been very interested in setting out a team to get a draw, but the worst thing anyone can do if they follow a successful manager into a club is to go 'crash, bang, wallop, I'm changing this, I'm changing that'."

The players knew times had changed when their new manager appeared on the training ground for the third day in a row. "He takes most of the training sessions, while Martin only used to come out at most two or three times a week," says Gerry Taggart, the veteran international defender. "He wants to be involved a lot more on the football side and he wants us to get the ball down and pass it a bit more. The start of a season is always important, but particularly for a new manager. People have always been saying that Leicester's bubble is about to burst. The players have been living with that sort of pressure for four or five years now, but the manager has a point to prove not only to the board and the fans but to himself. He knows how difficult it will be to come into a big job in the Premiership out of the lower leagues."

The accepted wisdom is that the leap is too great for players and managers in these opulent days. Taylor's handling of the England Under-21 team - and the injustice of his removal in the wake of Glenn Hoddle's exit - lends his managerial cv greater credibility than a promotion year at Gillingham or his time selling insurance, but his knowledge of the lower leagues coincides neatly with Leicester's unfashionable purchasing patterns.

The transfers of Ade Akinbiyi (£5m from Wolves), Gary Rowett (£3m from Birmingham City), Callum Davidson (£1.7m from Blackburn), Trevor Benjamin (£1.5m from Cambridge United) and Simon Royce (free from Charlton) have been completed with commendable speed and confidence. Benjamin, for example, was tracked by Taylor as a potential England Under-21 international; Rowett and Akinbiyi have also been in his notebook for a year or two. "It's backing your judgement. There are certainly players out there who can make the jump," Taylor says. "It's just a case of finding the right ones. One thing about the Under-21 job was that the contacts I made allow me to phone certain managers when I need help with players."

Eighth in the League, victory in the Worthington Cup and a prized place in the Uefa Cup were O'Neill's legacy to the club that made his name. It is, as Taylor is sick of hearing, a hard act to follow. If the Leicester players might have to compromise some of their methods to please the new man, Taylor himself might have to balance his purist principles with pragmatic demands. The beast cannot turn beauty overnight. But it is not just Leicester City fans who should wish Peter Taylor well in his quest.

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