FIRST PUBLISHED: Match, June 1999
By Chris Hunt


After surely the most bizarre football sacking in recent memory, Peter Taylor’s reign as England Under-21 boss ended with a 1-0 win in Bulgaria. Taylor leaves the team top of their European Championship qualifying group with six wins in six games, 17 goals for, none against. In 19 competitive games, his teams have lost just twice. It’s a great record, but Taylor’s job is about much more than results. The true gauge of his success is the progress of his young players. “The challenge for me was to take the best young players in England and get them into the senior squad,” he says.

Rio Ferdinand and Michael Owen had already progressed to the full squad by last summer’s World Cup, but this season an incredible nine more Under-21s have stepped up. With his season over hours earlier, Peter sits in the England team hotel in Sofia and offers his verdict on those nine players…



Used as a central defender by his club, Carragher has been a regular in the Under-21 midfield over the past three years, closing in on the record of 22 caps. He was called into Kevin Keegan’s squad for the friendly against Hungary, making a late substitute appearance, before returning to the Under-21s for the qualifiers against Sweden and Bulgaria.

Peter Taylor's verdict: “He’s one of my favourites because he’s been with me the longest, along with Richard Wright. He’s been at every squad meeting and even though his manager wanted him to have a bit of a rest, if you talk to Jamie he says, ‘No, I want to play’. It’s his attitude that impresses me – on the park, his attitude is spot on and in training it’s spot on too. He’s noisy, he’s funny and he’s what you need with the Under-21s because a lot of them can be quiet. I was delighted that in my last game I could make him captain. It’s the first time he’s been captain from the start and he played like it as well. He’s one that I think could play in two positions for England. He could play at the back as he does for Liverpool or in midfield. He’s always been terrific for us.”



The Under-21 skipper was another to his call-up for the friendly with Hungary as Kevin Keegan gave youth a chance in the absence of several first-choice players. He didn’t get out on to the pitch in that game, but it’s surely only a matter of time before he does and he could yet eclipse his cousin Jamie Redknapp and his dad, Frank senior.

Peter Taylor's verdict: “Frank’s got better and better as an international player He didn’t play well early on, he gave the ball away too much and that’s a thing you mustn’t do at this level, but he learnt to play it easier. He was probably just trying too hard, but he also improved after he became captain. I feel Frank should play a little deeper as a midfielder because he’d still get his shots in, but he showed against Poland that he can defend better from there and pass the ball well too. As for getting in the full side, if you’ve got a midfielder who can score goals then you’re always interested, so Frankie’s got to keep working at his game. Every season he’s improving, but for players like him it depends who they’ve got competing for their position.”



A graduate in Michael Owen’s year from the FA’s national school of excellence, Wes progressed through the age groups and made his England debut as a starter against Hungary after just 22 first-team appearances for Manchester United and five Under-21 caps. Big, strong, quick in the air and composed on the ball, is there anything he can’t do?

Peter Taylor's verdict: “Wes is going to be a terrific player, a great defender. He’s got pace, he’s a great athlete, he’s very strong in the air and he’s a great tackler. If you look at the French team, they’re the world champions and they have lots of athletes like Wes so I think he’ll have a great England future. He’s got to be patient playing at Manchester United because they’re a magnificent team and even though he’s a great player, he’s not going to get in every week – not yet. His full England debut wasn’t his best performance, but to be fair to Wes, I think he just needed to do two or three things well on the trot, but he’d make a mistake, do something well, then make a mistake, so he never got the confidence to settle in, but he’ll be fine. He will have learnt a lot from that.”



An almost certain future England Number One, Wright has yet to win his first full cap but is vastly experienced in the league with Ipswich and at international level with the Under-21s. He’ll have learnt from his time in the full squad, working with the likes of David Seaman and Nigel Martyn. And don’t forget, most keeper’s don’t peak until later in their careers.

Peter Taylor's verdict: “He’s got a tremendous attitude and he’s a really lovely lad. He always wants to be out training and working hard and he’ll be pushing David Seaman hard. I’m convinced he models himself on Peter Shilton. When people look at him they think maybe he’s not the tallest for a goalkeeper, but he’ll just get better and better. He’s got an old head on him and he’ll never stop improving, so he’s going to do really well. If he’s got a weak point, the goalkeeping coaches explain it to him and he just works it out.”



A left-sided defender with over 70 appearances already for Everton, Ball, like Wes Brown, graduated from Lilleshall in the same year as Michael Owen. Having played for England at every junior level, he isn’t short of international experience either and was called into the full squad for the Hungary game. Rumoured to be a target for both Manchester United and Arsenal.

Peter Taylor's verdict: “Michael’s got three positions where he could play for England. The great thing about him is he’s got a good left foot and we haven’t got enough left-footed players in the senior team. He can play as a left-back in a four, or a left wing-back pushing up, but he’s good in the air too so he could even end up being a left-footed central defender, the same as Matthew Upson. At the moment though he really needs a rest. He had a hard season for Everton and he played in Cyprus immediately before the last season so he hasn’t really had a break. As a young lad playing every week in a team that were struggling, it’s been a tough year for him. But once he’s 100 per cent fit at the start of next season he’ll be pushing hard to get into the full England team.”



Heskey’s impressive scoring record for the Under-21s caught Glenn Hoddle’s eye and ‘Bruno’ was called into the squad for the friendly against the Czech Republic last November. Sadly he was injured and didn’t get a chance to play but he earned a recall under Kevin Keegan, debuting against Hungary and earning his second cap, again as a late sub, against Bulgaria.

Peter Taylor's verdict: “He could become one of the best centre-forwards around. He always took in the little things and some of his performances at the end of last season and the beginning of the one just gone were outstanding. As a centre-forward he has more vision than many midfielders, he has power and pace and he scores goals. I said ages ago he could be another George Weah and I believe that. If he can have an injury-free season, he could be knocking on the door of the full team the season after.”



A versatile and talented footballer, Dyer won his first full call up for the France game at Wembley despite playing in the First Division for Ipswich. A broken leg disrupted his season, but he returned well with the Under-21s and was recalled to the full squad as cover when injuries hit Kevin Keegan’s plans for the crucial qualifier against Bulgaria.

Peter Taylor's verdict: “He’s got great talent and a tremendous football brain, but he’s also got fantastic stamina and he’ll run all day. He’s very quick, although he might need to be a little stronger in the upper body to be a top player. But he has tremendous vision and he always looks to create chances and make goals. Once he starts scoring a few more goals himself, he’ll be he finished article. He can definitely continue progressing where he is, but if you’re talking about being a top England player, you really need to be in the Premier league because even players who play in he Premier find international football a difficult step. I’m not saying you can’t do it from another division, but to be a top international player, you really need to be gaining experience at the highest level.”



After earning rave reviews in Villa’s lightning start to the season, Hendrie caught the nation’s imagination with his performance as a substitute against the Czech Republic on his England debut. Though he then returned to the Under-21 set-up for the remainder of the season, he has continued to impress and looks to have a great International future.

Peter Taylor's verdict: “He’s a great lad, a bright player and very intelligent out on the field. He works really hard too; at times you have to slow him down because he works too hard. But he’s two-footed, he’ll always score goals and he’s very clever in the final third. In fact, he’s clever all over the place, but it’s cheeky in the final third. He’s got a good chance because of his brain – he thinks quicker than most players, he knows where the ball’s going before he’s got it and once he’s got it, it goes into that area. He might need to get stronger to be a top international, but he’s got the ability. When Glenn Hoddle was looking for people to join the full squad for training I kept saying, ‘Get Lee Hendrie in’, and he liked him in the first session. He’s a very pleasant lad who wants to improve.”



The latest to progress to the full squad, Danny’s call-up for the Bulgaria game marked the pinnacle of a remarkable 15 months for the competitive defender. Until his move to Charlton in March 1998, Mills was a fringe player at Norwich, but after helping Charlton to promotion and spending a year in the top flight, he stepped up to the full England squad.

Peter Taylor's verdict: “Danny had a great move to Chariton from Norwich where he’d been in and out of the team. He went down there and did very well, becoming a very consistent performer. He’s been a boss at the back and he’s been a rock for the Under-21 s. He’s strong when he needs to be, when he needs to head it, he heads it, and when he needs to tackle, he tackles, so for us he’s been great, a real leader. I played him as a sweeper because of his voice and his leadership qualities. You can see in training the ones that are quiet and the ones who can become captains. Danny’s one of them. He’d never played sweeper before he came to us, but he’s done fantastically well. He’s a different type of sweeper from Rio Ferdinand, but very effective.”



Words copyright Chris Hunt 2007