Exeter City manager and UEFA Pro Licence candidate, Matt Taylor, says matchday doesn’t always look “as expected” and both players and staff must find solutions as the game plays out.
Even the most thorough preparation for matchday can’t ensure a game will go as expected explains, Exeter City manager, Matt Taylor. “The game starts and everyone knows it never looks like you expected it to look like,” says Taylor, a candidate on the 2019/20 UEFA Pro Licence course.

“Sometimes it does and you think I'm a genius manager. Or, more often than not, you’re stood there thinking: ‘I didn’t expect them to do that’ or ‘why is my player doing this? Is he having an off day? He doesn't look quite right, is he not sharp?’ All those questions come into your mind.”

The Grecians boss, who joined the League Two side in 2018, believes that having a clear focus on the touchline can help to make sense of the action on the pitch.

“You've got to be really clean and clear in terms of just gaining a focus. You spend most of the first half getting a focus in your mind and then pass that on to the players to implement. That focus will hopefully make your team perform better in the second half.”

Exeter City manager, Matt Taylor, provides instructions from the sideline during a match.
Taylor was named Exeter manager in 2018 and has an affinity with the club due to a four-year spell as a player. Image: Matt Bunn/BPI/REX.

As part of that process, Taylor looks for his players to step up and find their own solution to the unpredictable nature of the game.

“I’m a big believer that players have to take responsibility on the football pitch. As much as we'll try to influence them from the side and help them out, I'm looking for players who can take on that responsibility and those leadership roles. So, if it's not quite right on the pitch, they can affect it themselves.”

It's an approach which has worked. Before football’s break due to Coronavirus, Taylor has led Exeter to challenge at the top end of the League Two table - winning two manager of the month awards along the way. Hard work on the training ground is the major reason, explains Taylor.

“It’s the old cliche, but we feel if our work has been done in the week, then matchdays, to a certain extent, take care of themselves,” says the former Exeter defender.

“People talk about inspirational speeches. My pre-match talk is very simple: it just reminds us of the bits and pieces we've worked on and reminds us of where we see the value in the game.

“Probably the biggest bit of work is at half time - if anything needs changing tactically or personnel wise.

“But [going into the game] the players should be in a physical position to play and a good mental position. And hopefully we've covered the tactical aspects of the game, so on matchday I don't feel too uncomfortable.”

Exeter City manager, Matt Taylor, presents his group's analysis of a match during the UEFA Pro Licence course at St. George's Park.
Taylor (right) analyses a section of the Chelsea v Leicester game during a group task on the Pro Licence course at St. George’s Park.

Gaining vital coaching experience at the end of his playing career ensured Taylor felt prepared when he took over from long-serving manager, Paul Tisdale, last season.

“Whilst I was doing my last couple of years as a player, certainly when I left Bradford and went to Cheltenham and Newport, I took coaching really seriously.

“I went back to university and did a masters on top of the degree I did before I started playing professional football - and I got as much coaching experience as I possibly could.

“I worked at Hartpury College and they've got a full-time football programme. I'd go coaching in the morning and then go to training, before going back to coaching in the afternoon. I tried to get as much time on the field coaching and honing skills and then studying alongside that.

“I had a really full on couple of years towards the end of my career, which is probably opposite to what sometimes happens, but that really stood me in good stead for when I did retire.”

Being able to absorb the pressures, but also absorb all that information is absolutely key


The dedication to study has continued. Taylor has combined his second season in charge of the League Two side with studying for the UEFA Pro Licence course, an experience that has helped him acclimatise to life in the dugout.

“A lot of guest speakers [on the course] have been managers or ex-managers and they're the ones I really try and relate to the most – to see how they work and pick up little pointers which I could use in my own environment,” explains Taylor.

“As a manager, you’re always a point of call for everything that happens at the football club, so being able to absorb the pressures, but also absorb all that information is absolutely key.

“I’ve tried to learn about how to take the pressures away and how to divide your time economically and give yourself a better chance at dealing with the daily problems you face.”

The course has also taken Taylor out of his comfort zone through a series of challenging workshops – including working with actors and having to find his singing voice.

“It was just different and different is often uncomfortable.

“But you're encouraged to get up there and give it a go. Alistair Smith [course tutor] was great at explaining that you've got to understand those uncomfortable feelings inside you and use them for your own benefit and not let them hinder you - we all get them, there's no running away from that.

“Everyone feels uncomfortable at times in different situations and scenarios, so the more you do them, the more experience you gain from it. You can then fall back on those experiences in the future. I'm not sure I'll ever act, sing or dance again, but you never know.”

Article image courtesy of Kieran McManus/BPI/REX.

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