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FEATURE | Neil Taylor: “We want the top talents at Wrexham”

Wales legend discusses the importance of Academy’s reformation last summer on EFL Youth Development Week

21 March 2024


FEATURE | Neil Taylor: “We want the top talents at Wrexham”

Wales legend discusses the importance of Academy’s reformation last summer on EFL Youth Development Week

21 March 2024

This week we celebrate EFL Youth Development Week, which is an opportunity to celebrate the stories and successes of young players, alongside the brilliant work which is done by the Academy.

To mark the week, we caught up with ex-Wales international Neil Taylor, who became a scholar at the Club, before progressing to make his first-team debut for the Red Dragons in the EFL.  

Since retirement, Taylor has gone on to assist with Wales’ U21 side, and he has recently taken up his first managerial role with Gulf United.

We caught up with the 43-cap international to discuss the importance of the Club’s reformation of the Academy last summer.

Originally from Ruthin, the former defender played for Manchester City during his childhood, before joining the Red Dragons at the age of 15, when they were in League One at the time.

“Wrexham were a highly regarded academy in the area, I was given a scholarship a year after joining the Club, and I had a terrific time," he said.

“My youth days were scattered with people who are doing very well in the world of football now, with the likes of Steve Cooper, Steve Weaver, Stewart Webber all at the Academy.

“I was quite lucky and obviously Joey Jones was a big part of the academy too, a Wrexham and Liverpool legend and a fellow full-back for me.”

While Taylor quickly progressed into the first team, he wasn’t the only player that went on to play for Wrexham having also appeared in the Football League Youth Alliance for the Club.

“We captured a lot of the North Wales talent and talent in the north-west," Taylor explained. “We had a big talent pool to pick from and it was fantastic. Dennis Smith was the manager at the time, and he started to introduce me into the first team at 17.  

“The academy always had a great reputation, and I loved it – I remember my buses to get in early in the morning, and my three buses back thanks to the North Wales bus service! It was great, and I have real fond memories of my time in the academy.”

Neil Taylor holds the FA Cup with his Wrexham AFC team-mates.JPG

(Pic: Neil Taylor holds the FA Cup with his Wrexham AFC team-mates during his time with the Club)

The 35-year-old is well positioned to speak about the importance of the reformation of the Club’s Academy, especially given he now plays a part in the selection of the best young talent that Wales has to offer for international duty.

Speaking about the importance of the academy, Taylor stated: “For the community – it is massive. To know that there is going to be a top-class academy on your doorstep in Wrexham, it gives you a great chance of trying to forge a career.

“I think for me, the most obvious thing is down south you have Swansea that can capture some of the players from the west, while Cardiff takes up the bulk of the players from the capital.

“To have an actual club in the EFL making sure that no one slips past or goes under the radar in North Wales, is so, so important. It was taken for granted when we had it, but it is really important, especially when talking about international football.

“The good players in the regions will all get picked up, but you don’t want to miss the Wayne Hennessey’s of the world and we have to make sure that we capture players from all parts of North Wales.

“Having that funnel system which feeds through to the first team at Wrexham and potentially into the Welsh team is so important.

“We want the top talents to not have to go down to South Wales or to the north-west, we want the top talents at Wrexham – the reformation of the academy can only be a good thing.”

Finally, the former Wales defender who went on to score in the 2016 European Championships in a famous victory against Russia, provided some advice for the Club’s scholars.

Taylor said: “I think for me, you have to listen as much as possible, and work harder than everyone else. You are a part of a team, and by being a fantastic team player you will be recognised.

“Away from the pitch, you have to be very single-minded. You can drive, your friends all finish school at the same time and it’s an age where you can discover new experiences.

“Your friends might be really enjoying themselves and everything is telling you that this should be the time that you are doing things and enjoying, but if you really want to make it, you must sacrifice. If you’re willing to sacrifice, then you’ll have a chance of making it.

“If you can get in there and be a part of that Wrexham first-team, it will be absolutely fantastic, and of course, the Wales set-up will be here for them as well.”

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