The definitive by-word for utterly squandered transfer spend
#10: ROBERT TAYLOR
Signed: August 2000 from Manchester City, £1,550,000
Left: August 2002, contract cancelled
He was: Ideal for dressing up as Father Christmas
Following a narrow failure to make the playoffs in 1999/2000, preparations for the following season began with us continuing to work on the basis that we could only spend what we brought in through player sales; Sir Jack Hayward still being a year away from sanctioning one last final push for the top flight. This limited our finances to the point where we initially couldn’t offer new contracts to either Steve Sedgley or Scott Taylor – we did eventually sign them up, but needn’t have bothered in the event as both had played their final game in professional football owing to injury by the autumn. We were also unable to sign Coventry pair David Burrows and Paul Williams on free transfers; something of a bullet dodged on both counts. Interest in Ade Akinbiyi from Premier League Leicester City became apparent over the summer and after their initial £4,000,000 bid was rebuffed – a bid which Sir Jack was apparently keen to accept initially, only to be talked down by newly-arrived CEO Jez Moxey, presumably on the basis that once we’d given Bristol City their share in the form of a sell-on fee, this would leave us breaking approximately even on what we’d paid for him less than a year earlier – a deal was eventually concluded for £5,500,000 at the end of July. Akinbiyi had been our top scorer in the previous season with a respectable strike rate of close to a goal every other game and was our main focal point, but that level of money back in 2000 for such a limited (in the grand scheme of things) player was too good to turn down, especially given the lack of external funding into the club. A year previously we had sold Robbie Keane for £6,000,000 to Coventry City and used the money to bring in Akinbiyi, Michael Branch, Ludo Pollet, Michael Oakes and George Ndah; notwithstanding that Ndah quickly picked up a serious injury thanks to a scandalous challenge from West Brom’s Matt Carbon, this had worked out well for us overall to rebuild a thin squad, even if it did mean losing our jewel in the crown along the way (ultimately, good players aren’t going to stay in the second tier forever, let alone future stars like Keane). Unfortunately, we didn’t really have the talent spotting staff at the club at the time to mean that we could embark on a policy of losing our better players every year and seamlessly replacing them in the same way that say, Southampton have done over the past few seasons. At some point, lightning was going to fail to strike.
Colin Lee signed Temuri Ketsbaia from Newcastle for £900,000 – another player who might have made it into this series if we weren’t constraining it to a dozen names – and wanted to bring in another forward as our resources up front were extremely light; with Havard Flo frozen out of the picture after falling out with Lee regarding the treatment of a knee problem, Michael Branch was left as our only senior out-and-out striker (and as it turned out, his Wolves and indeed overall footballing career had already reached its high watermark). He identified Robert Taylor as his target. Taylor had been the main man for Tony Pulis’ Gillingham team in 1998/99 when they came within seconds of beating Manchester City in the Division Two playoff final and after starting the following season with 18 goals in 19 games for the Gills, City themselves signed him in November 1999 for £1,500,000. He scored five goals in 12 games for City as they finished second behind Charlton Athletic and returned to the Premier League after four seasons away, but evidently he wasn’t in contention for them a level higher – Joe Royle taking the maverick step of deciding that some guy called George Weah was a better bet – and was up for sale just months after arriving. Both Wolves and Portsmouth entered acceptable bids and after talking terms with both clubs he chose to come to Molineux, arriving on 15 August 2000 for a fee of £1,550,000.
The problem with this signing was that after Sky fetishised their fixtures in the manner they do with all big clubs who drop down to the second tier, most Wolves fans had seen Taylor play a few times for City in their promotion run-in – as well as his debut when we beat them 4-1 at Molineux in December 1999 – and he really didn’t look up to standard. If we’re being kind, we could say that he didn’t look like much of an athlete. To be more blunt, he looked like some massive fat guy who’d wandered on to the pitch by accident. It was hard to see how a man of that ahem…build could replace the powerful and strong running Akinbiyi. He could hold the ball up after a fashion and his goals for Gillingham indicated that he could strike the ball reasonably well, but general consensus surrounding him was extremely pessimistic. In the 28 and a half years of purgatory that I’ve spent watching us, I’ve rarely known us be chasing a big money (relative to the time) signing and for most of our fans to openly hope that we don’t attain the target. Fans absolutely love new signings, even when we don’t really need them and they’ll often voluntarily blind themselves to a player’s shortcomings, at least until they start showing themselves up for what they are in a gold shirt. So it really is unusual for them to emphatically not want us to sign someone.
He made his debut at Stockport in a 1-1 draw where Ketsbaia scored his second goal in as many games, which turned out to be the falsest of dawns. Our form early on was stodgy and Taylor embodied that; the impressions that we’d picked up from his pre-Wolves career were turning out to be accurate and there was an early portent of things to come as he missed fixtures at Portsmouth and Gillingham in the early weeks through injury. He got his first goal in a League Cup win at Oxford but a shocking home defeat to Tranmere encapsulated everything that was wrong with him and us. We lacked the departed Keith Curle’s leadership at the back, we were desperately short of quality in midfield, this game remains to this day, over 16 years on, Tranmere’s last away victory in the second tier (and that will likely stretch for some time to come) as they were a desperately poor team who were relegated out of sight and it was borderline impossible to see how Taylor was going to work out for us, even at this early stage. Our lack of central midfield quality – funny how I keep mentioning this, despite the series spanning over three separate decades – was masked to an extent in 1999/2000 by us frequently knocking the ball into the channels for Akinbiyi to chase, often outmuscle defenders in the process and win us some cheap territory. Taylor resembled an arthritic, overweight 50 year old stumbling out of Wetherspoons and half-heartedly chasing after the last bus when we tried that tactic with him. We just weren’t set up to even get near making this work – even if we did give him some service that he could hold up (supposedly his strong point), where were the runners from midfield supposed to be? We didn’t have that style of player around to play off a big man (or a very big man in this case).
A familiar pattern emerged where Taylor would start missing games for weeks on end with vague sounding muscular problems and save for another League Cup tie, this time at Grimsby where he scored twice, when he did play, he didn’t look remotely like scoring and he certainly didn’t look like he belonged at this level. Players, like managers, often have very defined ceilings. There was good cause why Taylor had reached his late 20s before anyone gave him a go in this division; he was effective lower down the pyramid but his basic physical conditioning was so lacking that you couldn’t see how you could set a team up to cover all that – and nor was he good enough in the first place to be treated as a luxury where everyone else had to be shuffled around to accommodate him. Neil Emblen was genuinely a better option up front which is incredibly damning – a bit like being informed that Paul Shane is a better singer than you – and he was also being shown up by a then 19 year old Adam Proudlock, considered so far away from first team readiness at the start of the season that we loaned him out to Clyde, and yet he had now comprehensively and deservedly leapfrogged Taylor in the pecking order. And it’s not like Proudlock himself was a lean mean striking machine.
The end for Lee came after our home defeat to Birmingham City on 17 December 2000. It wasn’t only our form which led the board to this decision – sitting as we were in a deceptively high 16th place, one point above the relegation zone and having won five of our 23 games – but also that in the previous week, Lee had seen fit to phone Radio WM directly after an hour-long ‘fan’s forum’ with Moxey and thought it a wise decision to correct what he saw as some inaccurate statements from the CEO and to assert that he personally had not wanted to sell Akinbiyi. I’m not that sold on the idea of contradicting and tacitly slating your boss live on local radio, especially when your own current performance is pretty dreadful, but what do I know, I’m not a football manager. While it was true that it was a club decision to go through with the sale of Akinbiyi – and the right one, in isolation – and Lee was perfectly at liberty to disagree with that stance, no-one made him spend nearly half the money on Ketsbaia and Taylor. One was a 32 year old where it quickly became apparent that Lee had no idea where to play him – he was on record in the autumn when Ketsbaia had been dropped to the bench that he wasn’t in the team as “he doesn’t fit our system at the moment, he’s not really a central midfielder and he’s not quite a striker”, as if anyone who’d watched him play for Newcastle in the previous three seasons didn’t already know that – and then he took a massive gamble on a 29 year old striker despite some clear and obvious concerns about his suitability. On numerous levels, Lee’s position was becoming untenable and we sacked him on the Monday following the Birmingham game. As for Taylor, it was the end for him too. A calf problem ruled him out of the games over the Christmas period and this went from a predicted absence of a couple of weeks, to a month, to eventually the rest of the season. We were told at one stage by the club that he was having trouble returning to training because his calf muscles were too big for the skin surrounding them. I kid you not.
By the time the 2001/2 season rolled around, Taylor was nowhere near new manager Dave Jones’ plans as he had signed Cedric Roussel in early 2002 and was actively chasing other forwards – Nathan Blake and Kenny Miller would arrive in September. It was obvious by now that we saw Taylor as a very costly mistake of the previous managerial era and just wanted rid of him at all costs, and so he was sent out on a succession of loans to QPR, Gillingham and Grimsby over the course of the season – in the latter spell he did manage to score once against Rotherham which proved to be the only ever league goal he would score in his post-Man City career. An Achilles injury ended that spell at Blundell Park but Grimsby weren’t deterred and after we came to a settlement on Taylor’s deal in August 2002 – over 18 months since he’d last played for us and with almost two years of it left to run – they signed him on a four month contract. He lasted a whole 20 minutes of his second spell with the Mariners before going off injured again and was released shortly afterwards. At the end of February 2003 he signed a deal to the end of the season with then fourth tier Scunthorpe and played eight games without scoring; that was the end of his professional career. In all, he’d played 36 league games for five different teams in the three years since his move to Molineux and scored one goal. I think it’s fair to say Man City got the better end of that deal. Post-playing career, he moved back to his native East Anglia and had spells managing such illustrious names as Watton United, King’s Lynn, Dereham Town, Diss Town, Mundford and Swaffham Town. Who knows, maybe he’s a man after my own heart and was embarking on an Alan Partridge-inspired managerial career. He has since moved into the world of football agency where I’m sure he’s well placed to tell his clients how to wing it for years.
Robert Taylor was a terribly thought through signing; to spend that level of money on a 29 year old and hand him a contract until he would be 33 seemed wildly optimistic on Colin Lee’s part before we even consider that hardly anyone thought Taylor was actually any good at all. Sometimes you can have preconceptions about a player and they prove you wrong. Taylor was the polar opposite of that, he was everything we suspected he was with a fragility that made Matt Murray look like Ironman by comparison. It’s a multiple whammy of a shocking signing – someone of completely the wrong age, of dubious talent, who is nothing like the guy he’s supposed to be replacing and ended up contributing absolutely zero. I actually had quite a lot of time for Colin Lee in his first 18 months as Wolves manager but he practically undid all that good work with one buy. As he’s never even threatened to get a job as big as this ever again, he not only wasted our time and money but also torpedoed his own career as well. Sometimes, it’s deeply impressive in a perverse way just how badly wrong managers can get it.