By Chris Dowsett
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In seven days which had seen Peterborough United turn in an awful display at Barnsley, followed by a second half capitulation at home to promotion chasing West Ham United on Tuesday night, Friday afternoon brought the biggest news of the week. At the club's AGM, chairman Darragh MacAnthony confirmed that 24 year-old striker Paul Taylor had rejected the offer of a new contract, that reportedly would have made him Posh's highest earner.
Mind's were cast back to the day before when manager Darren Ferguson had confirmed that his starting centre-forwards for the game against local rivals Leicester City would remain unchanged, meaning that new signing Tyrone Barnett and Taylor would be given another opportunity to gel as a partnership. But with Friday's news breaking, fans started to wonder if Taylor would still be involved and, indeed, what reception he would receive.
They need not have worried. Taylor approached the game with the same zest of youthful exuberance that has epitomised his time at the club, and endears him warmly to the Posh supporters. As so often with his game, Saturday demonstrated obvious flaws and areas of naivety but the quality of the winning goal would not have looked out of place at the top level.
This is where the quandary comes in. Taylor has apparently made it plain to the management at London Road that his desire is to play at the highest level as soon as possible and does not want to tie himself into a long contract with a club that, with the best will in the world, will look to secure a Championship future in the coming years at best. Ex-Posh defender Ryan Bennett, however, signalled that this does not necessarily have to be the case. After signing a new long term deal in with Peterborough United in the summer just gone, he joined Norwich City in January for a fee believed to be rising to as much as £4million, and made his Premier League debut yesterday afternoon.
Sadly, what makes Paul Taylor's situation slightly more complicated is that he will struggle to escape from his background if he moves on, especially after a league career that, at present, only consists of 51 games. Starting out at the Liverpool-based club Vauxhall Motors, where he first attracted Posh's attention, the striker moved to Chester City on loan in 2008, but failed to settle, with underlying issues beginning to emerge, making the local headlines. Chester faced an away trip to Gillingham, but Taylor declared himself unavailable and failed to turn up to the ground to meet the team bus, resulting in a severe punishment. This was not to be the last time that his actions landed him in trouble with the club's hierarchy. In fact, during his 4 month spell at the Deva Stadium, he was said to be "in breach of a club discipline" on three occasions in total, which included no-shows in training and at league fixtures against Grimsby Town and Chesterfield. The Blues had set up a permanent transfer for Taylor when his loan deal expired, but they terminated the contract of the striker early and he was sent back to Vauxhall Motors.
In October of the same year, the precocious talent received the biggest blow to his fledgling career yet as he was handed a six-month ban for failing a random drugs test in his time with Chester, after traces of cocaine were found in his sample. For a player that had promised so much, it looked from the outside to be one misdemeanour too many and the Liverpool-born striker looked on his way out of the game.
Observers of English football did not hear about Taylor again for some time, but after his ban and the appointment of a new advisor, the player made his way to Belgium in a last-ditch attempt to resurrect his failing career. It was felt that with a new start in a new environment, a place where nobody knew him, the striker could concentrate solely on his football and look to rebuild his life. It paid off for him. Taylor joined Belgian minnows Montegnee, who resided in the fifth tier of the league ladder, and within a year he had scored 13 times in just 18 appearances for them. With such an impressive goal ratio, bigger clubs started to circulate and in 2010 he joined Anderlecht.
As it turned out, it was the wrong move at the wrong time for Taylor and he did not make a single appearance in his time with Les Mauves and more pertinently started to slip back into old habits that blighted his personal life and had a direct effect on his professional life back at home. One such incident reported was that he kept, without permission, a company car and refused to pay despite being repeatedly being told to do so. In an attempt to escape the situation he found himself in with the Belgian giants, Taylor moved on loan to Charleroi on loan, but within a year, his foreign escapades ended and he moved back to England as a free agent.
In March 2011, after a few behind closed doors friendlies, Taylor agreed an 18 month contract with Peterborough United with an extension of a further year should all parties agree. Understandably, Posh supporters were apprehensive of his arrival given his past but Darren Ferguson, once again, demonstrated his expertise in man-management and kept the striker away from the limelight, and for his first couple of months at the club, the matchday squad too.
The way that Ferguson has managed the player so far has been exceptional and should not be forgotten, least of all by Taylor himself. The lack of support perceived at Chester (the club were poorly managed right at the very top under the chairmanship of the now disgraced Stephen Vaughan) and Anderlecht saw the striker go off the rails and lose focus of the very thing he was best at, his football. The main aim of the management when he first signed at Posh was to embed the player in a professional outfit. This included aspects such as fitness, nutrition, a good lifestyle, creating meaningful and long-lasting relationships with colleagues and those outside of football, and the ability to perform as well in training as in matches. Taylor relished the task, having been given another opportunity at the career he loved the most, and was absolutely determined to make the most of it.
Having settled in at the club and being around the side that won promotion to the Championship via the playoffs, Taylor benefitted from a pre-season, arguably one of his first since beginning his career at the age of 19, and his talents and efforts were recognised by his inclusion in the first team squad. In just his second appearance of the season, and only his third for the club, he came on as a substitute against Millwall in August 2012, scoring the equaliser in a 2-2 draw at the New Den and putting in an excellent all-round performance, showing very much what he was capable of. He started the next three games but dropped to the bench after Posh signed Macclesfield striker Emile Sinclair at the end of the transfer window.
However, it was exactly the management Paul Taylor required. A taste of the big time, and the opportunity to demonstrate his considerable talents, but a reality check that it all could disappear if he failed to perform or did not fit in with the structure in place at your employer. The striker had been well-received by players, fans and management alike in his brief spell in the starting XI, but it became evident that he had to be well looked after in order to get the very best out of him.
Paul Taylor is a character, who on the face of it, appears introverted, a recluse if you will, but one with supreme confidence in his natural footballing ability. He is a footballer very different to type, and portrays a man that looks visibly embarrassed when supporters sing his name. I have never met the man, but knowing people that have, have heard descriptions of a person ill at ease with himself, one reluctant of the media. Encouragingly though, he is a character that wants to be loved, needs to be looked after and enjoys making other people happy. He has certainly made many a Posh fan happy this season with 11 goals to his name so far, including some beauties such as his brace at home to Ipswich, the winner against Cardiff, the out-of-nothing volleyed equaliser against Middlesbrough at London Road and yesterday's moment of magic versus Leicester City.
His running with the ball can be joyous at times and his control fantastic, his natural ability makes him an excellent individual player. Yet the game consists of eleven and there are times when he frustrates, for example holding onto the ball for too long, running down blind alleys or his failure to pick simple passes, but these are all understandable faults of a player who is so inexperienced at Football League level.
His stated desire to play at the top of the pyramid is admirable and encouraging that a footballer of his age wants to fulfil his ambitions, but I feel he is being entirely that at the moment; ambitious. At this stage of his career, he is being managed in the best possible way and being provided with every confidence to convey his ability. He is an employee at a Championship football club that consists of effectively 19 in its first team squad, giving him every chance to learn and play regularly. Most Premier League clubs consist of approximately 30 professionals and opportunities are limited if you are not the finished article.
Paul Taylor is certainly not the finished article at the time of writing, instead he is a rough diamond, but one which could, if managed effectively and properly could shine very brightly indeed. Leaving now or in the near future, to join, hypothetically as his desire states, a Premier League club could damage his career immeasurably. In the high-pressure atmosphere and unforgiving nature of the Premier League, lack of games and lack of support - two aspects which Taylor's character thrives upon - could lead him back down the road that made him damaged goods at Chester and again in Belgium. You feel should it happen again, another chance would not be forthcoming.
He has all the talent to succeed, but needs the right people around him. Darren Ferguson and his coaching staff, and Darragh MacAnthony are exactly the people that he should be working under at this point in his life and to, ultimately, achieve his ambitions. If he leaves in the summer, everyone at Peterborough United will wish him well, but it's imperative he finds right club.
As a final thought, if you're reading this Paul, don't forget the admiration the supporters have for you and remember the song emanating around London Road yesterday, "Paul Taylor, we want you to stay" - it's the right thing to do.
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