The Curious Case of the Substitute Keeper

by Aarony Zade

Manchester City are “the club” nowadays that aren’t ever far away from most of the sporting back pages. Whilst newspaper columns this summer have been chock-a-block with stories detailing the big money arrivals of David Silva and Yaya Touré; alongside whispered bids for Mario Balotelli, James Milner, Fernando Torres and other outstanding talents throughout Europe, one transfer story that has ‘slipped through the net’ is possibly one of the most intriguing of all.

Having been released only nine days previously during Roberto Mancini’s end of season cull, third-choice goalkeeper Stuart Taylor has signed a new contract to remain attached to the Blues for a further two years. With England’s Joe Hart primed to take on one of the Premier League and indeed world’s best in Shay Given for the starting berth at Eastlands; you must ask yourself why a goalkeeper who has a Premier League winner’s medal in his locker is seemingly content to sit around and watch others battle for the limelight.

Whilst an opportunity knocked for the ex-Arsenal and Aston Villa man to seek first-team football elsewhere, albeit at a lower level and with a smaller club, he has again seen fit to sign on the dotted line and take out his tweezers in preparation for another season battling splinters. Having started out as an apprentice to David Seaman at Highbury, the 29 year old’s career seems to have bounced from one bench to another as he seems destined to always play the bridesmaid, and never the bride. It seems harsh to question a man‘s motives and especially one whom I have never met; but is it simply explainable that the man once described by Arsené Wenger as “a big talent” is happy enough to take a wage for turning up for training each day?

Soccerbase’s detailed statistics list Romford-born Taylor as having made just 86 first team appearances in a career which has now spanned over a decade. Indeed, his solidarity appearance last season came in a weakened Manchester City side which defeated Scunthorpe United at the glamorous Glanford Park in the third round of the FA Cup, deputising for a rested Given. He missed out on further appearances towards the end of the season as a knee injury put paid to his chances of helping City secure a Champions League place, Mancini instead utilising Gunnar Nielsen and loanee Martin Fulop. Whilst I can appreciate managers want a squad with depth and players of a certain standard available to play in the event of the worst injury crisis, could even the most patient footballer with any sort of professional pride sign a contract that he knows will consign him as no more than an able deputy? Whilst goalkeepers are perhaps able to wait that little bit longer for an opportunity to arise (Steve Harper at Newcastle being the prime example in recent years), is there not a stage when that desire for a slice of competitive action becomes too much?

In recent years, the search for first team action has seen other English goalkeepers Scott Carson, Ben Foster and fellow City ‘stopper Joe Hart take a year or two out from their parent clubs to go away and gain valuable experience at the top level, which has in turn awarded them all with international recognition. I especially doff my cap to Foster, who in making a permanent move to Birmingham City, has recognised that he sees himself as better than an annual Carling Cup winners medal and playing third-fiddle to Van der Sar and Kuszczak in the battle for Sir Alex’s affections. Taylor’s mentality however, seems to have differed from his goalkeeping peers. Bar fleeting emergency deals at Peterborough, Leicester and Cardiff; he has instead chosen to stay within a comfort zone that has seen his reputation regress from one of the more promising young custodians at the top level to that of an unambitious, wasted and forgotten talent.

With a financially-backed Manchester City expected to continue their rapid growth into a European footballing superpower in the coming years, will there ever be an occasion when City fans are willing to accept an unfashionable Taylor as a suitable replacement when the rest of the team are seen as galaticos in comparison? I tend to think not, especially when his appearance will more than likely have come as a result of the absence of the preferred pair of gloves at the club. I know that stereotypically goalkeepers have been of a select breed and not famed for their intelligence, but there must be an occasion when his spectating role finally expires and his mentality changes.

The next time Taylor sits down (and being bench-ridden he should be used to it) and watches the latest Championship or Scottish Premier League round up, he’ll see goalkeepers of an inferior ability playing week-in week-out in front of tens of thousands of supporters, plying their trade at the highest level they possibly can. Should he decide he is tired of arguably the “easiest job in football” and fancies another crack at a first-team berth, I’m sure that there would be a queue of clubs ready to provide him with an opportunity. Until such a time, the next time you’ll see the perennial substitute in action may possibly be in a reserve team match near you. Be sure to ask him where on earth he has been.

3 Responses

  1. Alan Gillespie says:

    Spot on. It’s a strange one alright. Similar to Harper, although he stayed at Newcastle for sentimental reasons more than anything else, and has been belatedly rewarded. Does Taylor have any emotional attachments to City?

    1. Ben Trasler says:

      As an Essex-born, Arsenal-bred shopper who has never played north of Birmingham, I’d guess at no. Maybe he just likes the Manchester party scene?

  2. zico2010 says:

    86 appearances in 10 years? how muchis he on a year? talk about in it for the money

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