Photo: David Ashdown/Getty Images
Steven Taylor felt quietly optimistic. His team was on Gulf United’s winning streak and was quite proud of the tactical trap it set for their high-profile British rivals.
As a result, the realization that he wouldn’t be ambushed in the hot desert air was suitably grim. “I remember thinking, ‘We’re going to give Newcastle great value for money,'” he says from Dubai. But after 20 minutes we were behind 3-0. Newcastle won 5-0 and showed off. They were special. My sons were like, ‘Wow.’”
Related: How the Guardian ranks the world’s top 100 male football players 2022
Admittedly, it was just a friendly game, but after spending time with Eddie Howe and his team in the United Arab Emirates last March, Taylor was convinced that his old club had been revived.
Indeed, Newcastle are currently third in the Premier League and will visit Southampton for the opening leg of the much anticipated Carabao Cup draw on Tuesday night. Their first local semi-finals in the FA Cup since 2005.
Now Taylor’s success in promoting Gulf United from the UAE’s third tier last season did not go unnoticed in elite coaching circles, but 18 years ago he was 19 and impressive in central defense under Graeme Souness.
Despite the presence of black-and-white-striped Alan Shearer and Patrick Kluivert, a meeting with Manchester United at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium was too much for a Newcastle side unnerved by the sacking of Sir Bobby Robson last August.
“Manchester United was on a different level,” says Taylor, who spent 13 years at Newcastle and played more than 200 games. “Cristiano Ronaldo, Ruud van Nistelrooy, Wayne Rooney, Paul Scholes, Roy Keane and Nemanja Vidic were fantastic.”
By the final whistle, Van Nistelrooy had scored two goals, and Scholes and Ronaldo had each scored one in a 4-1 win, offering a small consolation to Shola Ameobi’s consolation Souness.
Taylor prefers to remember the foreword. “The atmosphere was incredible as we landed in Cardiff,” he says. “Our support was phenomenal: everywhere you looked was black and white. At the coach going to the game, I saw our fans standing on top of a bus, pouring beer on them, sort of celebrating.”
Three days earlier, Newcastle had returned from Portugal, where they lost the UEFA Cup quarterfinals 4-2 to Sporting on aggregate. After Shearer’s lone goal won the first leg at Tyneside, his return plans were derailed by an argument between Souness and Laurent Robert in the hours before kick-off.
“The UEFA Cup is a competition that I think we should have won that season,” Taylor says. “We initially looked at cruise control but then Kieron Dyer and Titus Bramble were injured and Graeme Souness’s fallout with Laurent Robert didn’t help. If it hadn’t been for all this, I truly believe we would have won.”
Two years later, Mike Ashley became owner of Newcastle, precipitating a period of failure until a Saudi Arabian-led takeover and subsequent appointment of Howe in late 2021 changed the narrative.
“A lot of people talk about money. [£200m-plus] owners spent,” says Taylor. “But Eddie Howe made the most of the players he inherited. He made some of them rediscover their love for the game. He gave confidence to the whole group. The man management is so good you can see everyone fighting for each other.
“After leaving Bournemouth he knew he had to change his style and playing against Newcastle is terrible. I would say they are the best form team in the Premier League. Because of their density, it’s very difficult to plan how to set up against them. Next to that is St James’ Park. It’s a castle. “The crowd is absolutely phenomenal. Believe me, teams don’t want to go there. It’s a completely different environment than London or Manchester.”
After Taylor left Newcastle in 2016 – his last game was an “amazing” 5-1 win over Tottenham in the afternoon. a failed military coup
A defender whose England ambitions were thwarted by a series of serious injuries, Yilmaz remained determined to see the world.
This was followed by Stints, who played for the Portland Timbers in the USA, New Zealand (Wellington Phoenix) and India (Odisha). “Traveling opened my eyes to some things and included some crazy plane rides,” says Taylor, who took a position at Gulf United earlier last year. But now I am enjoying relocating to Dubai and trying to take this club to the next level.
“I think of what my successful ex-managers did. They were not inclined to take work home and overthink it. They didn’t panic. Or overly complex stuff. Players need to believe in what you do; Top coaches like Brendan Rodgers and Eddie Howe are brilliant at forming emotional bonds with players.
“There were some big names in Newcastle in the past but they just couldn’t take the pressure. When things don’t go well, sometimes people’s real character comes out and I’ve seen players pouting and telling their manager they want to walk away on a number of occasions.
“The biggest reason Newcastle has had the opportunity to do something special this season is that no one wants to leave Eddie Howe’s team. I would love for him to be my manager.”