By Craig MacKenzie
Kevin “Squizzy” Taylor is up for the challenge and expects his new side Westgate to be ultra competitive in 2017.
That’s despite being in charge of one of the youngest squads in State 1 North-West.
Taylor held just four training sessions with the Serbian-backed club before the league kicked off on Saturday with Westgate going down 4-2 at home to Yarraville Glory.
It’s been a whirlwind return to senior coaching for the one-time Frankston Pines goalkeeper.
From a surprise phone call from Westgate president Steve Kunesevic to overseeing the side’s recent 1-0 FFA Cup win over Doncaster Rovers took just a handful of days.
“About three weeks back the coach pulled the pin so I shortlisted eight candidates, had a conversation with them all then interviewed three of them,” said Kunesevic.
“One of the reasons ‘Squizzy’ stood out as the top candidate was his experience from a development point of view with what he has done with Bentleigh but at the same time he has that tough, hard-nosed State League experience as well.”
Taylor’s football journey from Melbourne’s south to Westgate’s Ardeer base has more twists and turns than a John Le Carré novel.
He was born here but in the early 1970s his parents returned to Derby in England for 10 years.
When they came back to Australia in 1983 Taylor played for Pines until under-16 level then switched to Seaford United where he made his senior debut.
A season at Mornington followed then he was sidelined for a couple of years as he recovered from shin splints.
He spent a few seasons with Langwarrin before rejoining Pines and retiring from senior football in 2002.
Taylor and Adam Jamieson coached Pines reserves in 2006 before the demands of Taylor’s job took him to Jervis Bay on NSW’s South Coast for a couple of years.
There he coached the Huskisson Vincentia juniors and played in the reserves and over 35s.
When he returned to Victoria he took over as Seaford’s reserves coach for the 2009 season and during the following season replaced Billy Rae as first team coach guiding the side to promotion from Provisional 3 South-East as runners-up to champion Keysborough.
Seaford had a midtable finish in 2011, finished third the following year and in 2013 won the State 4 South championship.
A league restructure catapulted the club into State 2 South-East for 2014 where it finished third bottom.
“At the end of that season I was tired and I knew it was time for a change for both myself and for Seaford so I quit.”
It didn’t take long before Taylor’s name was linked with coaching jobs at other clubs among them Casey Comets, Box Hill United and Bulleen.
But it was a meeting with Bentleigh Greens technical director Frank McGrellis that was to decide the next stop along the way.
“I was talking to Frank one day about a school holiday football program and he mentioned that Bentleigh hadn’t filled the Under-20s job.
“I decided to apply so I sent in my résumé and after a meeting with Frank and (club CEO) Johnny Ioannou I was offered the job and jumped at it.”
Taylor’s spell at Bentleigh was highly successful winning the championship in his first year and finishing sixth last year.
He took everyone by surprise when he announced at the end of last season that he was standing down from his role.
“I had two great years there and a lot of the players have gone on to play senior football at various clubs but to be honest I wanted a senior job again,” said Taylor.
He remains tight-lipped about the identity of the two clubs he turned down since quitting Bentleigh and only offers the titbit that the fit wasn’t right.
He’s much more talkative when the subject switches to the task at hand with Westgate.
After overcoming Doncaster Rovers the magic of the cup quickly disappeared after a 5-0 thumping from State 1 rival Western Suburbs in the next round.
“The players were really disappointed with the result and it gave them an indication of where we are at and the areas in which we need to improve,” said Taylor.
“We gave away some silly goals through lack of concentration and through some individual errors.
“While assessing the squad remains a work in progress we’re looking at bringing in another central defender.”
One of the candidates is Michael Millar, ex-Springvale White Eagles and Peninsula Strikers, who switched to South Melbourne last year.
“It’s a tough league with the money some sides are throwing around such as Altona Magic, Preston, North Sunshine and Sydenham Park but we’ve got to make sure that we are hard to beat both home and away and that we are ultra competitive.”
That may involve a divergence from what Taylor has become accustomed to in recent times.
“I’ve played 4-3-3 for the past couple of years in keeping with the National Curriculum but I’ll decide in the next couple of weeks whether that’s going to be what we’ll stick with and I think that playing to the strength of the squad would be the best way forward.”
One thing in Westgate’s favour is that coach and president are in sync in terms of expectations for 2017 and they also share NPL ambitions.
The president has the final say:
“We expect ‘Squizzy’ to continue the work of the previous coach in developing some of the younger players but at the same time we want to keep an eye on results.
“We finished sixth last year and we don’t expect to go lower than that and if we can improve on that it would be fantastic.
“Going into the NPL next year is not something we are actively seeking to do but if it happens we will be ready and if it doesn’t happen for 2018 then definitely we would like it to happen for 2019.”