Stuart Taylor – the ultimate backup keeper

It looked like it might be a quiet day at the office for Manchester City didn’t it? After the Big Brotheresque saga of Roque Santa Cruz’s drawn out switch to Eastlands from Blackburn, it looked like Mark Hughes and his henchmen might just have a few days to contemplate their next move. And refill their briefcases with cold hard cash.

But then came the news that everyone was waiting for. Well, not everyone, but still. Stuart Taylor had signed. That’s Stuart Taylor, from Aston Villa.

You remember Stuart Taylor? He was the guy who looked a bit like Chris Morris (of Brass Eye fame), with his slicked back hair and lanky physique. He came through the youth ranks at Arsenal under Arsène Wenger, and won a Premier League winners’ medal in 2002. He actually made eighteen appearances for the Gunners, but suffered with injuries, and was forever in the shadow of the likes of David Seaman, Jens Lehmann and….er….Rami Shaaban.

So he left. For Aston Villa. It seemed a decent move for all concerned. Arsenal didn’t need Taylor, Taylor didn’t need Arsenal, Villa needed Taylor. Thomas Sørensen has his merits, and was a decent servant for the Villa, but his later years saw a steady decline in his performance level. Taylor would be perfectly placed to capitalise on any slip ups from the Dane.

Well, not quite. Sørensen was deposed as number one at Villa Park by 2007, but it was another young English keeper plucked from a bigger club- Scott Carson- who was handed the gloves by Martin O’Neill. Taylor made some cameo appearances, most notably in saving a Wayne Rooney penalty against Manchester United in October 2007, but made just twelve league appearances in four years in the Midlands. The signings of Brads Friedel & Guzan last summer served only to push him closer to the exit door, with a loan spell at Championship side Cardiff City providing some rare first team action- albeit only eight games’ worth.

I suppose that is the nature of the beast when it comes to goalkeepers. After all, there is only one goalkeeper in each side, and it is not as if a keeper can fill in anywhere else (unless you are David James of course). Put shortly, there are only 92 goalkeeping positions available in the entire English professional game, and if you are prone to injury like Taylor is, the chances are that you will not be filling one of those on a regular basis.

It makes you wonder about the mentality of the substitute keeper though. Do they enjoy their football? Taylor will be 29 in November, and has made less than 70 career league appearances (incredibly, his 18 game “streak” at Arsenal is the most consistent run of games in his career). Does he feel a sense of fulfilment? Ok he has been beset by bad luck- a shoulder injury rendered him redundant throughout Arsenal’s “Invincible” season in 2003/04, and he has rarely put a foot wrong when turning out for Villa- but still he could surely have lowered his sights and forged a more rewarding career away from the glitz of the top flight.

And now for his latest switch. Taylor revealed upon signing for City today that he had spoken with his Villa nemesis Friedel about the switch, and was impressed with what the American had to say about Hughes and his goalkeeping coach, Kevin Hitchcock. Nice enough, but did he also consider that City spent £5.9m on another keeper, Shay Given, less than six months ago? And that Given has been one of the most consistent keepers in the league for the best part of his career? And here’s a neat stat, the least appearances ever made in a (full) season by Given is 17. The most ever made by Taylor is….10.

It is perhaps harsh to criticise a player for taking such a move in this climate, after all I don’t know the guy and who knows how confident Taylor is of usurping the more acclaimed Given as City’s first choice netminder? But it does make you think about the life of a backup goalkeeper. Do they sit and pray for an injury to their overstudy? Do they suffer any of the pressure, nerves and excitement of modern day football? Do they crave the cut and thrust of regular action? It is hard to imagine a centre-forward accepting such limited opportunities in the manner of Taylor, Carlo Cudicini, Diego Cavalieri, or Steve Harper.

So when the Championship season kicks off in August, and you see some pretty poor keepers on display, just think of Stuart Taylor. And if you can’t find him, he’ll be sat on the bench at Eastlands.

Also Read: Backup Goalkeepers.

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