The Wellington Phoenix have been dealt a significant blow ahead of the new A-League season with captain Steven Taylor announcing his retirement from professional football and leaving the club.
The shock news comes less than two months out from the start of the new season and just days after coach Ufuk Talay confirmed the former Premier League defender would lead the side in 2021/22, taking the armband from departed playmaker Ulises Davila.
The supremely fit 35-year-old has taken a full part in pre-season training and played in a match against local club side Miramar Rangers on Saturday. It's believed Taylor advised Talay and the club's Operations Manager Shaun Gill of his decision on Monday morning and will leave New Zealand tomorrow, returning to England.
The reason for his decision is believed to be a reluctance to spend another season based in Australia.
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Taylor joined the Phoenix ahead of the 2018/19 season – the first signing of Mark Rudan's tenure as head coach – and helped guide the side to the A-League playoffs for the first time in four years. When Rudan jumped ship for Western United after one year in charge, he attempted to lure Taylor away as well, but the fan favourite stayed put and was appointed captain by new coach Ufuk Talay for the 2019/20 campaign.
When Covid hit, Taylor took a significant pay-cut as the team relocated to Australia to complete their best ever regular season finish of third, before dipping out in the first round of the playoffs. Ongoing uncertainty saw him take up a playing contract in India in September 2020, but he returned in March 2021, playing a key role in the 11-game unbeaten streak which saw Wellington narrowly miss the top six last season.
After an inexplicable delay, given his influence on the team, he was finally offered – and signed – a one-year contract extension in June, but won't now see it out, leaving with 61 Phoenix appearances to his name.
Taylor's departure leaves a significant hole in Wellington's defensive stocks with Tim Payne and Joshua Laws the only other centre-backs currently on the books. More than that, his positivity and leadership around the squad was legendary and will be sorely missed.
Border restrictions mean the Phoenix will be based in Australia from late-October until at least the New Year, and open the new A-League season against Macarthur FC on Sunday November 21.