Neil Taylor will either be a Premier League starter or a rotation option next season, which will define the 30-year-old’s career.
Words by Alan Wilson | @VILLAlan54
It may well be a career-defining season for left-back Neil Taylor as Aston Villa return to the Premier League, especially amidst links to new left-backs.
The Wales international’s time at Villa Park has been far from plain sailing, who at times has had a rough ride from some of the Villa faithful – especially on social media – who seemed to target him with some harsh criticism when times were tough.
Ironically, Taylor was one of the most consistent performers during the clubs exhilarating run towards the Play-Offs and the subsequent promotion to the Premier League.
Born to a Benglali mother from India, he is one of the small number of British Asians in professional football.
After failing to make the grade as a trainee at Manchester City, he grabbed his chance with his first professional contract in 2007 with North Wales outfit Wrexham. After 75 appearances and three goals for the Red Dragons, he secured his move to the Championship with Swansea City in 2010.
Taylor represented Wales at Under 17, Under 19 and Under 21 levels, before gaining his first senior international cap in May 2010 – in an away friendly against Croatia. Since then he has represented Wales on 42 occasions, including playing a part in Wales’ astonishing run to the semi-finals of EURO 2016, during which he scored his first international goal in a 3-0 win over Russia. His career seemed to be on an upward trajectory, and in 2017 he joined Aston Villa alongside a six figure sum, with Jordan Ayew going the opposite way.
Darker days seemed to follow, however. Taylor was sent off on 24 March 2017 in an ill-tempered goalless World Cup Qualifier away to the Republic of Ireland, for a foul that resulted in Séamus Coleman suffering a broken leg. Coleman needed surgery on a broken tibia and fibula and Taylor was heavily criticised for the tackle. As a result he was given a two-match international ban by FIFA. If that wasn’t bad enough for him, Villa’s poor end to the season saw him coming in for some unwarranted abuse from small sections of the home fans, as the team finished a disappointing 13th in the table and missed out on the Play-offs. His confidence looked shot.
His standing with the Villa fans was not helped when on 30th September 2017, Taylor was sent off at the end of a 1–0 home win over Bolton Wanderers for a foul on Adam le Fondre. In truth, along with a number of his team-mates, his form and confidence had been shattered by some woefully inept performances from the Villa team as a whole. Never one to give in easily, Taylor kept his head down and continued to give his best when called upon by Steve Bruce.
His big break and opportunity to win back the fans who had lost faith in him, came when Dean Smith arrived to replace Steve Bruce in October. In Villa’s record-breaking run towards promotion, Taylor was in brilliant form breaking up opposition play with crisp well-timed tackles and interceptions. His probing runs down the left flank, interchanging passes with El Ghazi and later Grealish, turned opponents inside out down the left wing.
In this promotion season, Taylor made a total of 32 appearances and won the fans back over with his consistent performances. So, what are Neil Taylor’s chances of being Villa’s first choice left-back as they commence their challenging return to the Premier League in August?
One huge factor in his favour is his experience in the top league with Swansea City. In his six seasons with The Swans he made a total of 147 appearances in the Premier League (plus another 32 in the Championship before they were promoted). Add to that the experience he has gained playing in 42 International matches for Wales and it will be very difficult to dislodge Taylor’s place at left-back, dependant on who the next left-back to arrive at the club is.
It truly will be a career-defining season for Neil Taylor, who could play a full Premier League season as a starter, or be resigned to the bench in favour of a new signing.