The Football League Paper - - INSIDE: - By John Wragg

NEIL TAY­LOR got rid of a lot of fur­ni­ture last sum­mer. Gave it away to char­ity. Now he’s at a club in the process of clean­ing their house. As­ton Villa may not be a char­ity case, but they are still in need of help.

Tay­lor moved from Swansea on trans­fer dead­line day in a £5m deal that took Jor­dan Ayew to Wales.

He was part of a Swansea era in which the Swans grew Premier League feath­ers. The city beamed with pride at the stature of its foot­ball club.

“Swansea the foot­ball club lifted Swansea as a city. I think that is 100 per cent true,” says Tay­lor.

“From what I’ve seen in Swansea, it changed peo­ple’s lives. Not just the play­ers, but the busi­nesses, the in­dus­try and the fact that Swansea were now on the map be­cause the Premier League is a global brand.

“You could al­most guar­an­tee the rest of the world didn’t know where Swansea was un­til they were a Premier League team. For sure, that changed ev­ery­thing.

“It makes you re­alise how big a task it is to stay in the Premier League, not just for you, but far wider than that.


“It’s the same here for Villa. As much as rel­e­ga­tion had ob­vi­ously af­fected this foot­ball club, I could still see the fans turn­ing out, home and away, in a ridicu­lous amount of num­bers, to be hon­est.

“That shows you how deep­rooted this foot­ball club is in the com­mu­nity.”

Swansea are go­ing through now what Villa went through sea­son af­ter sea­son, bat­tling rel­e­ga­tion, often not con­vinc­ingly, and fi­nally – if you like black hu­mour – suc­ceed­ing and go­ing down to the Cham­pi­onship.

Villa got through a bus-full of man­agers in the process, Swansea are on their third this sea­son, but look to have made a good choice – to Derby owner Mel Mor­ris’ sur­prise maybe – in Paul Cle­ment who has brought or­der, un­der­stand­ing, plan­ning and knowledge to the job.

It was dif­fer­ent un­der Cle­ment’s pre­de­ces­sor Bob Bradley.

“Un­der Bob Bradley there were prob­a­bly five changes ev­ery game,” says Tay­lor, talking about how it all ended for him at Swansea af­ter seven sea­sons, dur­ing which pro­mo­tion, the League Cup and Premier League recog­ni­tion were all achieved.

“I was in and out with Bradley,” adds Tay­lor of the Amer­i­can’s 85-day reign.

“Ev­ery­body in the team seemed to be in and out. We didn’t have a set­tled team at all. Hence why we were bot­tom of the league at Christ­mas. So it wasn’t great.

“But I prob­a­bly knew it was time to chal­lenge my­self. Maybe com­ing back from the Euro­pean Cham­pi­onships with Wales last sum­mer, I needed to get that fresh chal­lenge again and go and try some­thing and prove my­self.

“When you have been some­where for seven, eight years you can go a bit stale. That’s why I made the de­ci­sion to go to Villa.”

Be­fore Villa’s game yes­ter­day at Wi­gan, Tay­lor had played seven, won four and lost three. But Villa had con­ceded only four goals, some­thing that pleases him as a full-back.

“I’ve got to be hon­est, I’m old school in that I en­joy clean sheets as a de­fender. I’m prob­a­bly a dy­ing breed of full-back. Most of them now like to score and as­sist. I en­joy be­ing part of a back four that keeps clean sheets.

“But it is about time I chipped in with a cou­ple more goals.”

He’s only ever scored four, three for Wrex­ham in Non-League and one for Wales in a 3-0 win over Rus­sia that left the Welsh top of their qual­i­fy­ing group on that ex­cit­ing run to the Euro semi-finals.

“It’s easy to count them,” he smiled. “I’m not go­ing to for­get them, am I?

“None is very spec­tac­u­lar. With the Rus­sian goal, I hit the keeper first so that wasn’t very spec­tac­u­lar. The oc­ca­sion was, but not the goal.

“My last one for Wrex­ham was a vol­ley at the back post against Grays. Not a bad fin­ish in front of about 400 peo­ple. The other two were pretty much a tap-in.”

Tay­lor’s pro­fes­sional de­but was for Wrex­ham against Villa – a 5-0 home thrash­ing in the League Cup of 2007-8 when Martin O’Neill had John Carew, Ash­ley Young and Stiliyan Petrov and the club was try­ing to be­come a pow­er­house of the English game once more.

“That was an eye-opener,” he said. “Villa were a top-six club in the Premier League. They had stars through­out the team. Our aim is to get the club back to that level. I get a spe­cial feel playing for Villa at Villa Park.

“You’d ex­pect, when a team has dropped down to the Cham­pi­onship, you’d lose a lot of fans but they haven’t here.

“There is just one bit of the top tier of the main stand that’s closed. The rest is filled ev­ery game. “Only teams like New­cas­tle and Villa can do that. I’ve been nicely sur­prised. If we were top two or three in the Cham­pi­onship, that top tier would be open and full. “That’s why I’ve come here be­cause I want to be part of those games and those days when the fans are in, the ground’s full and rock­ing. “It’s why I signed. It was a hard de­ci­sion. I still had a cou­ple of years left on my con­tract. “I didn’t have to make any quick de­ci­sions. I am up­root­ing my fam­ily and my kids at school, so it is not some­thing you take lightly.

“But, at the age of 28, I wanted to try some­thing new. As a player you only play for a cer­tain amount of time and I wanted to come and play for what I think is a very big club. I think we have found our feet now as a group of play­ers. We have to make sure we fin­ish this sea­son strongly, ready for go­ing into the next.

“You could see the club was on its way out of the Premier League last sea­son. But the club has made a bold de­ci­sion and de­cided ‘you know what, we are go­ing to rip the roots out of the club and start again’.

“Playing for As­ton Villa in this league brings its pres­sure. But that’s what you want. It’s what ev­ery­one is cry­ing out for, it’s what ev­ery foot­ball club wants, to be at that level where ev­ery­body en­vies them.


“So, when you do get it, you can’t com­plain. And we’ve got it. So you have to em­brace it. “Steve Bruce, the man­ager, has spo­ken about it a lot, hav­ing play­ers here that can han­dle playing at Villa Park be­cause ev­ery game is a big game. “I have no­ticed ev­ery­one playing As­ton Villa goes up that per cent.” When Tay­lor was playing for Swansea, they were dubbed Barcelona in dis­guise be­cause of their style. What can Villa be­come? “What­ever the man­ager wants them to be,” said Tay­lor. “It starts with the top and works its way down. “The man­ager’s job is to get the right team, the right for­ma­tion to get out of this league. “The rea­son the club em­ployed Steve Bruce is be­cause he’s an ex­pert at that. There is no doubt that, un­der him, this club will get it right, it’s just in which time frame we are go­ing to do it in. “Since I’ve been here, I’ve played New­cas­tle, Hud­der­s­field and Sh­effield Wed­nes­day and, for me, there’s def­i­nitely noth­ing for this club to fear.”

BIG MO­MENT: Tay­lor scores for Wales against Rus­sia at Euro 2016

PIC­TURE: Ac­tion Im­ages

OLD DAYS: Neil Tay­lor at Swansea NEW COLOURS: Neil Tay­lor in ac­tion for As­ton Villa against Bris­tol City EX­PERT: Steve Bruce

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