On the final day of the Summer transfer window the controversial transfer policy that has ignited discussion among Watford fans claimed its first genuine casualty. Gavin Massey was struggling to break into the team under the old regime, so although the departure of his untapped potential was a disappointment, it will not have affected the supporters in the same way as that of the giant Tiny Taylor.
The official word is that the leviathan of a centre back asked to leave the club. For this he can’t be judged, and I guess the club can’t be either. For the player, starting to think about the final years of his career, it’s a sensible choice. Watford have clearly become a club with lofty ambitions, and with the number of incoming transfers, nobody’s place in the team is certain. Clearly, Taylor’s prerogative is to play games. Though he has started the season well, barring the team-wide blip that was the Ipswich game, and has even been made captain by Zola in John Eustace’s absence, in such a competitive environment, with so many players vying for so few places, an injury or brief loss of form could see you fall down the pecking order very quickly. Having missed a large part of last season with an injury, Taylor’s place in the team is precarious at best. Tiny is a guy lacking in pretence, he wants to play football, and he knows that he’s assured more action at Sheffield Wednesday than at Watford.
We can’t really be too upset at Watford for this either. We have lost a great Championship defender, a bloke who stands out from the rest as a person, someone that you would happily meet down the pub, but it was at his own behest. Part of growing as a club is acquiring better players – whether the way that Watford are going about it is ethical or right for the club is a matter for another time – and that is what Gianluca Nani thinks he has done. Three of the deadline day loans are primarily centre backs, with Marco Cassetti also deployable there. Zola was clearly happy to keep him around to fight for his place – our fleeting sightings of some of the old new boys show that any incoming players have to earn their place – and by making him captain showed that he recognised his leadership abilities, but Taylor decided that it was for the best for him to leave, and so be it. It’s a shame, but it’s happened, so we’ll have to move on.
But let’s first pause to praise what Martin Taylor has done in his time Watford. For he has been a giant not only in stature. He is a classy defender, whose immediate image and reputation belies his grace and poise.
The tragedy of Tiny is that he will forever be remembered for the wrong reason. His rash challenge on Eduardo in 2008 was more a product of the Brazilian’s quick feet than any lack of technique or abundance of ferocity on the part of the defender, but it brought calls for a lifetime ban from Arsene Wenger, presumably surprised at the novelty of seeing an incident for once, and death threats from Arsenal fans. Refer to Taylor among any casual football fan, and they will bring up said incident, a severe injustice to such a gentle giant. His record of only five yellow cards since the incident four and a half years ago is testament to his measured approach and often impeccable reading of the game.
The thing about Tiny is that opposition fans won’t appreciate his ability. Seeing him once, you’ll come away from the game describing a tall, slow centre back with good aerial ability but little else. That was how I saw him when he arrived at Vicarage Road in January 2010. Starting the year with an assured centre back partnership of Jay DeMerit and Mike Williamson, the back line was thrown into disarray when the latter got too big for his boots and demanded a lucrative move to Portsmouth just four games into the season. After half a season of loanee Craig Cathcart stinking up the joint, we needed a firm partner for the club captain. To me, Taylor was not a much better prospect, cumbersome and disjointed. His debut at home to Sheffield United, our first clean sheet in two months was a flash in the pan, so was the following home game – a 2-0 victory over Bristol City in which Taylor scored with a volley from a tight angle that painted pictures of Marco van Basten. 95 flashes in the pan later, it seems he may just have been the defender that Watford needed.
In his second season, Taylor finished second in the voting for Player of the Season, with only Danny Graham, scorer of about a gajillion goals, beating him. This was recognition for the impressive feat of starting all 46 league games that campaign, a fantastic achievement for a player who puts himself about – though with Corinthian levels of fairness – so much.
After close to a century of appearences, it’s easy to see why Taylor might be so undervalued by one time viewers. You rarely see him making a last ditch tackle, or sprinting to rectify a situation, because most of the time he’s put out a fire before it’s even been lit. His reading of the game was so proficient that he cut off attacking moves effortlessly, and returned to his mark without the slightest bit of pomp. It was possible to think he was doing nothing, because he was always busy making sure that nothing was doing.
And that coolness is rare in the game. But then, so is Martin Taylor. How many players in the Championship harbour ambitions to teach geography? If they did, how many do you think could actually do it? When presented with a man as affable and turned on as Martin Taylor, you’d follow him to the ends of the earth, just to have a look at some oxbow lakes. That he was captain for his final three games in a yellow shirt was a fitting end to his stint of often understated leadership.
Good luck Tiny, see you back in Watford on the 5th of March for the hero’s welcome you are owed.