Belfast Telegraph

Taylor: I fear for Northern Ireland’s future without big names

By Paul Ferguson

It’s custom in this politically correct world for an outgoing sports star to wax lyrical about how a team will prosper in their absence.



He’ll reminisce about his career — the highs and lows — concede why he feels it’s time to go and then insist how that particular side will go on to bigger and better things without him.

But veteran goalkeeper Maik Taylor, who will retire after making his 88th and final appearance for Northern Ireland tomorrow night in Pescara, just can’t bring himself to mask over the obvious cracks in our international set-up. He’s too honest.

Northern Ireland, unless they can produce a minor miracle with a depleted squad against former world champions Italy tomorrow, are going to finish in fifth place in Group C.

And when Northern Ireland start their World Cup qualifiers next September against Portugal, Russia, Israel, Azerbaijan and Luxembourg, Stephen Craigan, Aaron Hughes, Taylor plus maybe one or two other disillusioned players will not be available.

Taylor genuinely fears for the future of Northern Ireland football with so many experienced names retiring and the quality simply not coming through at a fast enough rate.

Boss Nigel Worthington has attempted to bring along the young guns including Corry Evans, Jonny

Gorman and Lee Hodson — however it’s vitally important for their development that they are not fast tracked without the experienced players being by their side.

Taylor, who turned 40 last month and is currently without a club having been released by Birmingham City during the summer, experienced his own barren spell with Northern Ireland under Sammy McIlroy and is concerned there could be a repeat of those dreadful times.

“I really believe Northern Ireland could be entering a difficult period with the players that won’t be around for the next set of qualifiers,” admits Taylor, who made his Northern Ireland debut against his native Germany in 1999.

“We’re going to be a team in transition again — just like we were under Sammy McIlroy. Sammy had good youngsters but they lacked international experience. So after a few years when they got that experience we produced some great performances and results under Lawrie Sanchez and Nigel Worthington.

“The youth need to be blooded but blended in with the older lads. However if the experienced lads all call it quits leaving just the young guns, that’s when you encounter problems.”

Veteran Taylor, after he departs the international scene tomorrow night, will always cherish the great Northern Ireland victories over England, Spain, Sweden, Denmark and Poland that he played a part in.

But he warns while those were magical wins, it’s unrealistic to expect Northern Ireland, with a limited squad, to be beating those type of teams on a regular basis.

“The expectation level is too high — we’re not world beaters and we need to get real,” argues Taylor.

“We can get beaten by anyone but we’ve also had a few great nights against big opposition. Then the expectation level goes through the roof and we’re supposed to beat everyone which is nonsense. Everyone gets carried away but really you can count on one hand the number of players we have performing at the highest level.”

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