LONDON (AP) — Graham Taylor, who was derided as England coach after failing to qualify for the 1994 World Cup, has died. Taylor, a friend of pop star Elton John, enjoyed considerable success as an English club manager. He was 72.
Taylor, who won admiration as manager of Aston Villa and Watford, died early Thursday of a suspected heart attack, his family said.
“The family are devastated by this sudden and totally unexpected loss,” a family statement said.
Elton John, who owned Watford during Taylor’s two stints in charge, said it is a “sad and dark day” for the club.
“He was like a brother to me,” John wrote on an Instagram post . “We shared an unbreakable bond since we first met. We went on an incredible journey together and it will stay with me forever.
“He took my beloved Watford from the depths of the lower leagues to uncharted territory and into Europe. We have become a leading English club because of his managerial wisdom and genius.”
Taylor reached the pinnacle of English management when he was hired by the national team in 1990, inheriting a side that had reached the World Cup semifinals.
Taylor guided England to the 1992 European Championship, but the team was eliminated at the first stage, setting the tone for the rest of his time with the national team.
After England lost 2-1 to Sweden in its final game at Euro 92, The Sun tabloid trashed Taylor with the headline: “Swedes 2 Turnips 1.”
Taylor’s head was superimposed on a turnip, a caricature that led to the manager becoming known harshly as “Turnip Taylor.”
Taylor’s decision to grant behind-the-scenes access to a television crew for the qualifying campaign for the 1994 World Cup backfired when the extent of the strain of the job was exposed.
In “The Impossible Job,” Taylor was filmed complaining about a refereeing decision during a qualifier against the Netherlands, telling the linesman: “Tell your mate he’s just cost me my job.”
The failure to reach the 1994 World Cup in the United States was a blot on Taylor’s earlier accomplishments.
Taylor guided Watford from the fourth division to the first division (then the top tier), an FA Cup final and European competition in five years from 1978. He then took over at Aston Villa, guiding the team to promotion to the top-flight and a second-place finish in 1990.
He returned as manager to Watford and Aston Villa after his England misery, but left the dugout for good in 2003. He was a regular commentator on matches in recent years for BBC radio.
He is survived by wife Rita and daughters Joanne and Karen.
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