The last two years have seen an astounding rise for Great Britain defender Neil Taylor. Back in 2010, the Welshman had just ended the season as a promising prospect in the fifth tier with Conference side Wrexham. Now the 23-year-old full-back has an impressive Premier League campaign freshly under his belt with Swansea City and is eyeing a shot at Olympic gold.
The modest left-back cites luck often as he recalls his rapid rise through the divisions of English football, but having more than played his part in The Swans’ fine debut season in the top flight, few would agree that it was the determining factor. “It was about this time two years ago that I moved to Swansea,” he told FIFA.com. “Before that I had no idea where I was going to end up, so it’s been a case of trying to take it in my stride as I moved up quite a few levels.
“I was lucky enough that we were promoted in my first season, so the Premier League was a very new thing for me and I had to try and prove myself, but luckily I think I had a good year so it’s given me a good platform.”
Good enough that he was snapped up by Stuart Pearce to be a member of the 18-man Team GB side who kick off their Olympic journey next week, and it’s an honour that is not lost on him. “It’s a great privilege. I’m very excited and obviously can’t wait to be involved, it’s an exciting time and a proud moment for me and my family.
“I’m just really lucky that I’m at the age where I’m able to play and that I’ve had a reasonably good season to put me in contention. I’ve been really lucky with all those factors and that it’s in the UK - which our generation probably won’t see again.”
Things almost didn’t pan out this way though, with the nine-cap Welsh international almost switching for Newcastle United a year ago, but his decision to stay saw him play more outfield football than all but Ashley Williams and GB team-mate Scott Sinclair. “I made the decision to stay at Swansea because I wanted to play football and I wanted to be involved with the manager [Brendan Rodgers] who has developed me so well. Touch wood I don’t have any more injuries, because last season luckily I hardly had any and it allowed me to play a lot of minutes.”
He’s joined by a squad that that has a strong Welsh flavour, bringing a different feel compared to the England U-21 side Pearce is used to coaching. The likes of club team-mate Joe Allen, Wales captain Aaron Ramsey, Craig Bellamy and captain Ryan Giggs have all added to a novel-looking squad, which Taylor feels reflects the nation’s progress on the international stage.
“It shows the strides that Wales have made and it’s a good stepping stone for us as well because with that many players involved it says a lot about how well we’ve done,” he said, following their rise to 38 in the world – their highest ranking position in 18 years. “The manager [Pearce] came to watch us a few times, so obviously having three to four players involved from the national side shows he was impressed with what he’s seen.”
The addition of Giggs also allows the defender, 15 years the captain’s junior, to play alongside a bona fide national hero. “He retired as I was coming through but it’s a chance to play with a legend and that’s really exciting.”
After joining the squad 12 days ago they make their first public appearance in almost 40 years against a much-fancied Brazil side in Middlesbrough, with Taylor under no illusions of the task ahead of them. “It’s going to be a massive game. These countries take the Olympics really, really seriously. I think it’s then when we have to try to be cohesive and try to get together to be as strong a unit as possible.
“It’s going to be really tough against these teams that have been together for a while and have almost been preparing for a month. Pitting yourself against the best players is what we want to do and how we perform against Brazil will show how far we can go in the competition.”
With group games coming think and fast against United Arab Emirates and Uruguay after their opening game with Senegal on 26 July, all within the side will be hoping a unified squad, and maybe a little of Taylor’s luck, can see them go far.