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|Women’s Euro 2017 quarter-final: England v France|
|Venue: Deventer, the Netherlands Date: Sunday, 30 July Kick-off: 19:45 BST|
|Coverage: Listen on BBC Radio 5 live and online; live text commentary on the BBC Sport website; live on Channel Four|
After being overlooked by England for almost a decade, the chances of Jodie Taylor proving herself a “world-class” striker at a major tournament seemed remote.
But at 31, that is exactly what the top scorer at Women’s Euro 2017 is doing.
And it is just the latest unlikely twist in a nomadic career which has taken her to 12 clubs in five countries – and had more than its fair share of ups and downs.
So why did it take so long for the Arsenal striker to belong in such elite company, and how did she get here?
From out in the cold to red hot
While Taylor has looked a natural so far in the Netherlands – scoring four goals in two starts – it is only four years since she was in the international wilderness.
Consistently overlooked by then England manager Hope Powell, an uncapped Taylor watched Euro 2013 from the stands.
The tournament was a low point for the Lionesses – they finished bottom of their group and had the worst record of any side in the competition – but it proved a defining moment for Taylor.
“I was playing in Sweden at the time for Goteborg FC and a lot of my team-mates were representing Sweden. I remember sitting and watching in one of the stadiums and thinking, ‘I know I should be at the Euros’,” Taylor said.
“In the past I maybe didn’t feel quite so valued by certain people but it was probably the first time where I thought, regardless of what anyone else says, I know I deserve to be here.”
Fast forward four years and that judgement has proved right.
Under the tutelage of head coach Mark Sampson, her goals against Scotland at Euro 2017 put her alongside Sir Geoff Hurst and Gary Lineker as the only England players to score a hat-trick at a major tournament.
So why was she overlooked for so long?
Two constants run through Taylor’s career: travel and injury.
But while injury was sometimes unavoidable, the desire to travel was her choice.
Having started her junior career at Tranmere Rovers, Taylor decided to broaden her horizons by taking a four-year scholarship at Oregon State University, and once she sampled the higher standard of football in the United States, returning to England was less appealing.
Unfortunately for Taylor, who has played for professional teams in the United States, Australia, Canada and Sweden, playing elite club football overseas did not impress Powell.
“Back then, being out of the country didn’t help [my England career],” Taylor said. “That was made clear to me from the beginning in college, but playing over there was something I knew I had to do.”
Despite playing at what she considered the highest standard possible, her chances of an England call-up were not improved in 2010 when an enquiry by Powell coincided with Taylor taking a rest from the game, leading to a silence between the pair.
“I emailed her and tried to get feedback, but it was like drawing blood from a stone,” said Taylor.
That all changed when Sampson was appointed in December 2013, and the striker, who has 13 England goals from 27 appearances, can now look back without regrets.
“All those experiences have helped me become the player and the person I am today so I wouldn’t change any of it,” she told BBC Radio 5 live. “In some ways I appreciate not being selected back then because I had some amazing opportunities abroad.”
‘Everyone knows she is a world-class player’
When Sampson replaced Powell, he wasted little time in calling up those who had been shunned, including Taylor and fellow striker Lianne Sanderson, for a training camp in La Manga, Spain.
The Welshman talked of a “new dawn” and how “the door would be open for every player”. Suddenly, for Taylor, a club career overseas and an England spot were not mutually exclusive.
What also helped was the belief Sampson had in Taylor, something which had been missing previously and which has since taken her to the heights she now occupies, having twice as many goals as the competition’s second-highest scorer.
“Ever since I’ve known Jodie, I think everyone has known she is a world-class player,” Sampson said after her hat-trick against Scotland.
“I’ve not seen better in the game at anticipating passes in behind and moving into positions to receive the ball. Of course, you need the service, but what Jodie has added to her game in the past 12 months in particular is her ability to be an instinctive finisher.”
After making her debut for England against Sweden in 2014, Taylor began to shine when she chalked up her first England hat-trick as the Lionesses went on to win the 2015 Cyprus Cup.
And, despite being injured in the build-up to the 2015 World Cup, she still scored a vital goal in the quarter-final win over hosts Canada, as England finished third.
That was all before making her mark on Euro 2017 with a first hat-trick by an Englishwoman in a major tournament, and another goal against Spain.
“I think I always had the belief I’d be at the Euros, and it’s been a credit to the staff with England,” Taylor said. “I’ve really felt the belief, confidence and trust in me from Mark and that has been huge through the tough times – knowing I’m still valued.”
Grinding her way to the top
Injuries have been a subtext to Taylor’s journey ever since she broke her leg as a 15-year-old at Tranmere.
But, after starting her England career so late, she has shown the physical and mental fortitude to get back to full fitness on many occasions.
One example came before the 2015 World Cup, when she injured her knee six weeks before what would have been her first major tournament for England.
“It was minor knee surgery, a lateral meniscus tear which I just got in a training session at Portland Thorns, and I was given an eight-to-10-week recovery timeframe,” she explained.
“I certainly pushed through it but that was 100% my call because I was not missing that tournament after not getting an England call-up for years.”
Another knee injury looked set to derail Taylor’s chances of playing at the European Championship – she tore her anterior cruciate ligament after signing for Arsenal at the start of 2016.
But, after an intense period of rehabilitation, she scored on her return later in the year, and gave Sampson a reminder of her ability when scoring in a 1-0 over the Netherlands in a friendly last October.
“The last two years have been a tough ride and just to be here fit and healthy is a huge achievement for me,” Taylor said after the victory over Scotland.
“I have been unfortunate with some injuries but I’m in a really good place right now. Someone said recently that I looked 24 years old, so I was buzzing! Most people think I’m 26 or 27, which is sweet because that’s how I play, or that’s how I see it.
“Physically there’s still more to come from me, I think, which is quite exciting for a 31-year-old. I certainly don’t feel anywhere near the end of my career.”
Taylor has already proven that – going into Sunday’s quarter-final against France – needs two more goals to match the European Championship record of former German striker Inka Grings, who scored six at Euro 2009, including two in the 6-2 win over England in the final.
“Ask any forward and they’ll say they want to win a Golden Boot but I just want us to win,” Taylor added. “I would take a gold medal over a Golden Boot, 100%.”
The way Taylor and England have started the tournament, she may have to make room for both in the trophy cabinet.
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