Arsene Wenger has paid tribute to Graham Taylor OBE who died yesterday at the age of 72.
Taylor and Wenger were London Colney training ground neighbours between 1996-2001 when the former England manager was in charge of Watford for a second time.
Taylor had previously made his name with the Elton John owned Hornets in the seventies and eighties, engineering their rise from the fourth division to a second-place finish in Division One in the space of five seasons.
He also managed Lincoln City, Wolves and enjoyed two fruitful spells at Aston Villa.
“It’s very sad,” said Wenger in his pre-Swansea press conference. “I was surprised, absolutely surprised. I’d never heard that he was sick.
“We were close at some stage because he was manager at Watford and I had, once or twice, lunch with him.
“He was a man who had a big passion, was brave, competent and absolutely, totally focused on the game.
“I could feel as well that he suffered a lot as manager of England and we never know how much the violence of this job has an incidence on our health. I must say it is a very sad day for English football.”
Wenger added: “He was an honest, educated man. Pat Rice, who was my assistant here for many, many years, had him as a manager.
“He spoke to me about how passionate he was and how interesting it was to work under him at Watford [Rice played for the Hornets, 1980-84]. They had John Barnes at the time at Watford; they had a good team.”
Taylor’s failure to lead England to the 1994 World Cup, graphically portrayed in the Channel 4 documentary ‘An Impossible Job’, and the way he was vilified by the Rupert Murdoch and Robert Maxwell owned tabloids – at the time engaged in a vicious ratings war – left him battling to salvage his reputation as a top-level coach.
What never came into doubt was Taylor’s reputation as a true gentleman of the sport, as evidenced by the outpouring of affection from supporters, players, managerial peers and broadcasters over the last 24 hours.
This thread on Twitter is particularly touching.