Charlie Taylor is a recognised first-teamer and aims to be an established left-back at Leeds United. Phil Hay reports.
The coming year will be classed as Charlie Taylor’s difficult second season at Leeds United but in the context of his experience the young left-back is further down the tracks than that.
Taylor says he returned for pre-season this summer feeling “more of a first-team player” than he did a year ago and his profile at Elland Road has never been higher but 12 games this season will take him past 100 appearances at the age of just 21.
His appearances to date have been spread across five different clubs, most of them made on loan at Fleetwood Town, and Taylor can no longer be classed as wet-behind-the-ears. For that reason he starts the new season with the aim of completing the whole of it.
Taylor says he wants to be “established”, even though he already is. Brought into United’s line-up for the second half of last season – a factor in Leeds’ willingness to sell captain Stephen Warnock to Derby County – his input under former head coach Neil Redfearn was commendable. In Uwe Rosler’s squad, he still looks like the left-back of choice.
“Coming into this pre-season I did feel more like part of the first team,” Taylor says. “I felt like more of a first-team player.
“I’ve done pre-seasons with Leeds before but in the past I knew I wasn’t necessarily in the plans. You always try to fight for a place but I was really young and there were times when I didn’t have much chance of getting into the team. I knew I’d probably be going out on loan – which in the end was always good for me.
“This feels different but that doesn’t mean I don’t have to impress as much or that I’m free to relax. Probably the opposite if I’m being honest. Football doesn’t let you relax and I doubt that one player here is guaranteed a place for the season. Not if they’re playing badly or not training well.
“First off I’m thinking about getting into the team for the start of the season but it’s a target for me to play a full season here. I need to get in and remain there.”
The trend of getting in and staying in has been set by United’s academy products time and again. Sam Byram, Lewis Cook and Alex Mowatt will start this season as first choice, at least to judge by the teams which Rosler has field in pre-season. Kids at Elland Road don’t tend to flash in the pan or blow themselves out overnight.
The group of four, Taylor included, go back a long way. Taylor and Cook went to the same school – Tadcaster Grammar – albeit in different years and Taylor and Byram have played together at Leeds since the age of nine. The full-back and Mowatt first crossed paths at a similar age.
“To be playing in the same team altogether is brilliant and something I maybe take for granted,” Taylor said. “It’s what you’re used to and it feels familiar. To take Sam as an example, the two of us have been here at Leeds since the age of nine. That’s how far we go back.
“A lot of lads in football end up going their separate ways. When I’m on the pitch and I look to my left or right and see guys whose games I know inside out, it does make a difference. It makes it easier. You don’t feel out of your depth.
“The dream is always to make it and to be fair, I knew that all of these lads were really talented. But for the four of us to be in the team at the same time is probably quite unusual.”
A mark of the young core in United’s squad last season was their ability to ride the chaos that Leeds were permanently burdened with. Taylor stepped into the team at a time when United were in desperate trouble – 21st in the Championship on the day he started away at Bolton – but seemed oblivious to the pressure and the ructions at Elland Road. Mowatt summed it up quite aptly in April. “This is the only club I’ve played for so I just think it’s normal,” the midfielder said. “I just try and play.”
Taylor’s attitude is much the same. “There was stuff going on last season but for me you couldn’t beat what I was getting,” he says. “I was playing every week for my local club so I had nothing to complain about.
“All the off-field problems – obviously they were there but I just ignored them. I think when you’re my age you can only concentrate on training and playing. It’s not for me to get involved in anything else. I just forgot about it all. It didn’t affect me. And when you get out on the pitch it all feels a long way away.”
Taylor has not seen a vast number of pre-seasons but he ranks this one under Rosler as the hardest he has ever completed. Rosler tested his players for two days after they returned for training at the start of July and upped the intensity of their programme after analysing the results. As clubs tend to, Leeds embarked on double sessions for much of the summer and trained in harsh heat in Austria.
The impact of the work will show itself properly once Saturday’s game at home to Burnley starts the Championship season and a fairly exacting first month. Leeds face long trips to Reading and Bristol City back to back in the space of four days. They also play Derby County away at the end of the month, a venue where a victory is long overdue.
“This has been the hardest pre-season I’ve done,” Taylor says. “It’s not been easy but you know you’ll benefit from it when the season starts.
“That’s how you have to think in pre-season – if we stick the work in, we’ll be pleased about it when the season starts. However hard it is at the time, it’s worth the effort and we’ll be ready. I’m hopeful this season could be a good one.”