Can Taylor recover after nightmare switch? ‘Must hold on to De Ligt’

Can Taylor recover after nightmare switch? ‘Must hold on to De Ligt’
Kenneth Taylor (Ajax)

NOS Soccer

  • Sam Porskamp

    Follows Ajax on behalf of NOS Sport

  • Sam Porskamp

    Follows Ajax on behalf of NOS Sport

Kenneth Taylor’s starting debut in Oranje against World Cup finalist France last week was supposed to be a new high point in his fledgling soccer career. It ended in a nightmare. Trailing 3-0 after 33 minutes, the 20-year-old Ajacied was substituted by national coach Ronald Koeman. “Interesting to see how he deals with this now,” said Willem Weijs.

Weijs is his former youth coach at Ajax and is watching the Go Ahead Eagles-Ajax match this afternoon (12:15 p.m.) with extra interest. After all, it is precisely in adversity that the big boys distinguish themselves from the little ones, is his view.

“A footballer can never reach the top if he doesn’t get through moments like these. Players all face adversity sooner or later, so it’s up to them to resist it.”

Thoughts immediately turned to Matthijs de Ligt after Taylor’s early switch. Indeed, the defender suffered a similar flare-up with the Oranje in 2017. De Ligt, now a base player at top club Bayern Munich, was thrown to the lions by national coach Danny Blind in the World Cup qualifier against Bulgaria.

Taylor’s dramatic starting debut against France

It did not turn out well. At the 1-0 debutant De Ligt made a painful mistake and he also dropped stitches on Bulgaria’s second goal. Blind substituted De Ligt at halftime and the former Ajacied became the head of the pack afterwards. Just like Taylor after the beating against France.

Weijs: “First of all, I think it is always easy to score to attribute a mediocre performance of the whole team to an individual. Perhaps victimizing Taylor was also the easiest way to go. He is the youngest player and does not yet have a great track record. You often see that when trainers want to bring something about, they are more likely to choose players like this than more mature players like Georginio Wijnaldum or Memphis Depay.”

De Ligt as an example

When it comes to mental toughness, De Ligt may be the perfect example for Taylor. “He came to Ajax very quickly, went down hard for a while, but quickly picked up where he left off. And look where De Ligt is now. That’s what Taylor needs to hold on to.”

National coach Ronald Koeman pulls Kenneth Taylor to the side against France

Weijs, now an assistant at Belgian side Lommel SK, worked for several years in Ajax’s youth training program and was closely involved in Taylor’s development as a mentor at the time. He thinks his former pupil will pick up quickly. “I know him as a very balanced, self-confident and confident boy. I don’t expect the setback with him to be too bad.”

“You also always have to look at the context. With the Dutch team he is one of the most inexperienced players in a new environment for him. He played in a team that was clearly of lesser quality than the opponent. At Ajax soon against Go Ahead Eagles, everything will be the opposite. Basically, Ajax is dominant, has better players and Taylor is playing in a familiar environment.”

From skittering to success

Taylor grew into a base player this season. First under Alfred Schreuder, then under John Heitinga. Last season he was still shuttling between Jong Ajax and Ajax 1. Former coach Erik ten Hag proposed to loan him out for six months, but Taylor wanted nothing to do with that.

Weijs: “I came to the Arena around that time as an assistant for Willem II and already knew then that if he came through here, he would play in the first team for a longer period afterwards. But he was still impatient, just wanted to play and develop further. I said to him then: stay calm and keep making good choices, then the opportunities for someone with your qualities will come naturally. That turned out to be the case.”

Kenneth Taylor (Ajax)

Yet despite his starting place at Ajax and spot in the Dutch national team, there is also much criticism of Taylor. He does not really excel at anything and in the switch from attack to defense often looks laconic. France’s opening goal after two minutes was a good example of the latter. Taylor was trounced with a tackle by Antoine Griezmann, who then easily ran away from the Ajax midfielder and was able to fire in the 1-0.

“I don’t know if that was laconic or if he was impressed at such a moment by a big stadium and a very strong opponent. But in a general sense, that is an area for improvement. If you look at Edson Álvarez, for example. Who is much more dynamic in putting pressure and aggressiveness on the ball.”

World to win

Thus, there is still a world to be won for Taylor, who is playing his first season as a base player at the highest level. But the soccer technical part, according to Weijs’ plea, is thus certainly not the most important issue when it comes to whether or not he makes it to the top.

“I continue to be amazed that many scouts look primarily at a player’s technique, efficiency or speed. To me, a top talent characterizes how he is mentally put together, how ambitious he is and how he handles adversity. With Taylor, that’s fine. No doubt at all.”

Kayleigh Williams