Rising talent: Charlie Taylor is hoping to be the latest player to graduate from United’s academy into the first team. Leon Wobschall reports.
IT will not be until tea-time on Bank Holiday Monday that the team Charlie Taylor has played for this season will be able to bracket their 2013-14 campaign as either a success or, ultimately, a failure.
But the young Leeds United defender is crystal clear on one thing. That his own footballing schooling this term has brought on his own career leaps and bounds, regardless of what happens for him and his Fleetwood Town colleagues against Burton Albion in Monday’s League Two play-off final at Wembley Stadium.
While Taylor’s United team-mates are busy soaking up the sun on some foreign beach with their footballing commitments being completed earlier this month, the 20-year-old left-back has pressing work business to attend to – and he couldn’t be happier.
The holidays can wait. After all, it’s not every day that a young professional plotting out a path in the game potentially gets the chance to play in a promotion showpiece at the home of football.
The game against the Brewers in six days time will comfortably be the biggest of Taylor’s embryonic career, with booking a place at Wembley after a semi-final win over his hometown club York already ranking near the top of his experiences so far in the game.
Taylor and his Fleetwood muckers joyously celebrated reaching the final on Friday night on the pitch with ecstatic home fans after a 0-0 second-leg draw at what was a tense Highbury Stadium, with the Cod Army going through 1-0 on aggregate after 180 minutes of play-off football.
An occasion to savour for Taylor, but also to consider just how his own career has come a long way since he linked up with the Lancastrians in mid October.
Away from Elland Road he may have been, but Taylor’s form has been monitored and if he gets the benefit of a fair wind, he intends to be pushing for a first-team spot on the left-hand side of defence back at parent club Leeds in 2014-15.
United have already shown they think highly of him, with the full-back to sign a new deal later this week and eager for the next phase of his development at Elland Road.
In terms of examples to follow, Taylor has one in front of him, namely centre-half Tom Lees, who hasn’t looked back since propelling himself into the first team in the autumn of 2011 on the back of a promotion season at Bury in 2010-11 – after being a loan regular at Accrington the previous year.
Taylor told the YEP: “Tom had two years out on loan and came back and has done brilliantly and cemented his place at centre-back and that’s what I want to do next year.
“This loan has been brilliant and I have enjoyed every bit of it. I feel it has improved me so much as a player and a person.
“I just feel as if I have come on so much this season and I am looking forward to going back to Leeds and kicking on in pre-season next year.
“Playing ‘men’s football’ every week has brought me on. People don’t realise, but League Two is a tough, physical league and so much better than just playing in the under-21s and reserves at Leeds.
“My one-on-one defending and fitness has come on as well. I get up and down the pitch a lot more and physically and as a person, I am controlling games more than I was really.”
Taylor’s credentials were certainly tested in two encounters with York, where he spent a brief loan spell in the autumn of 2012, more especially in the definitive encounter on the Fylde coast.
Holding a 1-0 lead from the first leg at Bootham Crescent, Fleetwood had to deal with sustained pressure from the Minstermen in the second meeting and were handed several scares before the final whistle; the game ending up deadlocked at 0-0.
It was a severe test for Taylor, who has started 31 league games for Fleetwood in 2013-14 – only four others have lined up in more – but he wasn’t found wanting.
A number of his mates among the 1,000-strong York contingent in the away end may have been willing on the Minstermen to triumph, but with that prospect over, expect them to be firmly in Taylor’s corner in the final.
Taylor, brought up in Tadcaster, said: “I live in York and a lot of my mates were in the York end and it was good to prove some of them wrong and get the win.
“There was a bit on Twitter and I have had a few texts and it was great to knock them out and go through. They will be a few wanting tickets now for Wembley!
“I can’t wait and there should be a coachload going down from ‘Tad’ and it should be a great occasion and hopefully we will go down and win.
“Playing at Wembley would be up there with making my debut for Leeds and playing for England at Under-19 level in a tournament in France.
“The last 10 minutes was a bit nervy, but we got there and the feeling at the end was great. It was a great experience really.
“They threw their keeper up at the end and we had an empty net twice to score and we couldn’t finish them off. Credit to them, they kept coming at us, but we held on strong.
“From where they were at Christmas, it was an unbelievable achievement to get from where they were into the play-offs.”
Taylor was watched on Friday evening by Leeds first-team coach Neil Redfearn and if he requires a glowing reference for further proof of the defender’s progression, he could do worse than speak to Fleetwood manager Graham Alexander.
His move to bring in Taylor, who previously had loan spells with Inverness, York and Bradford, has proved rewarding for all concerned and he is confident he has a “bright future” in the game.
Alexander said: “Charlie has done great. He came into the team in the early part of the season when we had a couple of injuries and we threw him straight into the team.
“He’s very highly thought of at Leeds. He had a little bit of a dip halfway through, but he’s a young lad who is playing week-in, week-out in highly competitive games and he’s come back strongly. He’s a very good player with a bright future.
“I think all players come on when they play week-in, week out. I think Leeds have got high hopes for him and we’ve really enjoyed his time here.
“He’s added to the quality of the group and the lads love him and hopefully he can do it in one more game for us.”