Graham Taylor, who had died at the age of 72, performed minor miracles in domestic football but came unstuck when confronted with the unforgiving forces of the international game and, particularly, the British tabloid press.

Had his managerial career ended before he became England manager, he would have been lauded for the manner in which he lifted Watford from obscurity to Europe alongside the showbiz pizzazz of Sir Elton John. Even if his team was oft-criticised for its direct style, few would deny the romantic achievement of taking Watford from the fourth division to the top flight in five years. He even took Watford to an FA Cup final in 1984, losing to Everton.

After a stint at Aston Villa, where he raised them back from the old second division to second place in the top flight, he succeeded Sir Bobby Robson as England manager.

Robson was a tough act to follow, having guided England to the semi-finals of Italia '90 and leaving behind what appeared to be a team that would thrive in the 1990s, featuring the goalscoring abilities of Gary Lineker, the defensive pace of Des Walker and the midfield genius of Paul Gascoigne.

Despite losing just one of his first 23 games in charge of England, Taylor's first big test was the 1992 European Championships, where the national team fell apart. England failed to qualify for the knock-out stages after allowing hosts Sweden to come from behind and beat Taylor's team 2-1. Taylor's reign was to become defined by the reaction of Britain's biggest-selling newspaper to the loss: The Sun's front page featured the headline "Swedes 2 Turnips 1", with Taylor's face superimposed on a picture of the root vegetable.

Unfortunately things were to get worse for "Turnip" Taylor as England floundered in World Cup qualifying, losing to both Holland and Norway and failing to make it to the 1994 finals. Taylor's international reputation was further decimated by his decision to allow TV cameras behind-the-scenes for the abortive campaign.

Chrysalis Sport's Neil Duncanson couldn't believe his good fortune when Taylor agreed to filming, and when the resulting documentary An Impossible Job was broadcast as part of Channel 4's Cutting Edge series it was not hard to see why England had failed to qualify for USA 94.

Taylor's touchline exclamations over his team's ineptness – "Do I not like that" and "Can we not knock it?!" – became footballing catchphrases. Taylor's management team of Phil Neal and Lawrie McMenemy were exposed as clueless Yes Men. Taylor's on-camera admission that he would lie awake at night sweating in his pyjamas merely confirmed the impression of a man out of his depth. The final nail came after a controversial refereeing decision condemned England to defeat against the Netherlands, when Taylor complains to the fourth official and the linesman: "I'm just saying to your colleague, the referee has got me the sack. Thank him ever so much for that, won't you?"

The tragicomic documentary will forever be many people's point of reference for Taylor. But there are football fans who remember him much more fondly. Taylor returned to both Watford and Aston Villa after his international sojourn.

Elton John led the Watford tributes to Taylor. "I am deeply saddened and shocked to hear about Graham's passing. He was like a brother to me. 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 unchartered territory and into Europe.

"We have become a leading English club because of his managerial wisdom and genius. This is a sad and dark day for Watford. The club and the town. We will cherish Graham and drown our sorrows in the many brilliant memories he gave us. I love you Graham."

Watford fans continued to remember Taylor fondly too, as this clip tweeted by TV presenter Jake Humphrey exhibits.

Taylor had gone into management after his playing career was ended by injury at the age of just 27. He became the youngest person to hold an FA coaching badge and the youngest manager in the football league when he took over Lincoln City aged 28.

Elton John, Watford's glamorous new owner, recruited Taylor and for a decade the pair oversaw the club's golden era, featuring that climbed through the leagues, and the advancement of talents such as John Barnes and Luther Blissett. For those who wish to remember a very decent man fondly, Watford is a better place to look than his international humiliation by TV and tabloids.