Yorkshire Evening Post chief football writer Phil Hay charts the rise and, well, rise of 22-year-old Leeds United left-back Charlie Taylor – a player who appears to be the first name of the manager’s team sheet.
Uwe Rosler is more interested in Taylor’s engine and the left-back’s apparently limitless stamina. The German is caught between two stools: anxious to prevent Taylor burning out but loathe to even think about resting him. Rosler tinkered with the right side of his defence at MK Dons on Saturday but was hugely relieved to have kept Taylor in play.
The 22-year-old’s knack over several seasons has been to cope with whatever is asked of him. He teed up a simple header for Ross McCormack with one of first touches of the ball on his debut in 2011 and every club who United loaned him to gave clean and complimentary reports on his return. Fleetwood’s manager, Graham Alexander, found Taylor’s upper limits hard to predict. “I think a lot will be down to him,” Alexander said.
His mentors at Thorp Arch always suspected that once Taylor found a way into United’s team, his ability and quiet confidence would keep him there.
He was raw and skinny when Simon Grayson blooded him four years ago but Taylor’s physique changed over time. When he showed up with Brian McDermott on United’s pre-season tour of Slovenia in 2013, his build made him look like a different player. His impact in Saturday’s win at MK Dons owed as much to his strength of running as it to his ease on the ball.
Rosler has only two concerns about him, both of which he knows he can address. Firstly, the absence of another left-back in his squad means Taylor has no cover. Gaetano Berardi can play in that position but the Swiss defender is still in the business of nailing down the right-back role game after game. Rosler left Berardi out at MK Dons because neither he nor the player were certain that a third appearance in a week would be good for him.
United’s boss also wants to find a balance between Taylor’s positive thinking and his first priority. Rosler noted that when Simon Church ran in to score MK Dons’ goal on Saturday, Taylor had been caught high up the pitch as an attack by Leeds broke down. Rosler said the defender was “pushing himself to the limit in every game” in what is certain to be a long and hard season; Taylor’s first as a regular starter at Elland Road.
Asked if he was wary of asking too much of Taylor, Rosler said: “To be honest, yes. I feel sometimes that with more game knowledge and more game management, he’ll find a way to play more economically.
“When they (MK Dons) scored he was in a left-wing position, 15 metres ahead of their winger. Things break down and they score. So he’ll learn about that but I don’t want to take away his energy or his enthusiasm because that’s what makes him special.
“He’s a man and yet he’s only 22 years old. I think his body and his fitness will allow him to go for 46 games. But at times he does have to manage the game more economically.”
Taylor was the subject of speculation last week linking him to Manchester United, a club who need a left-back after losing Luke Shaw to a badly broken leg. Manchester United are also being linked with Aaron Cresswell, the West Ham United player, but Taylor has an ample supply of admirers. Noel Whelan, who watched Saturday’s game as a pundit for BBC Radio Leeds, described him as the “best left-back in the Championship at the minute.”
Leeds tied Taylor to a three-year contract in 2014, one of the few commitments made to existing players at Elland Road in the immediate aftermath of Massimo Cellino’s takeover. Numerous senior professionals were allowed to move on at the end of their deals and McDermott’s future as manager remained unclear for several weeks after the end of the 2013-14 season but Cellino made a specific effort to commit Taylor to new terms. At that stage, Taylor was effectively out of contract.
It took the sale of Stephen Warnock to Derby last January for Taylor to get a proper chance at Leeds. Part of United’s rationale for allowing Warnock to leave was the belief that Taylor was ready to replace him. Neil Redfearn, United’s head coach at the time, said there was “no doubt in my mind that he’s ready.” Cellino later took credit for enforcing Taylor’s selection, saying: “Darko Milanic and Neil Redfearn did not (play) Charlie Taylor. I was watching this boy that made his choice to stay in Leeds. He could take more money to go to another club but he chose to stay in Leeds and nobody gives him a chance to play.”
The full-back was Rosler’s most consistent player in the first month of this season and easily the pick of his players in Milton Keynes, winning United’s penalty and scoring their second goal in a 2-1 victory. He is also the only ever-present player in United’s squad.
Taylor, however, preferred to talk up the performance of goalkeeper Marco Silvestri who, after a poor night against Ipswich Town last Tuesday, came up with several timely saves at stadium:mk.
“I was pleased for Marco,” Taylor said. “I thought he was fantastic and he kept us in it with some crucial saves. Everyone at the club knows Marco’s a great keeper.”