By Dane Massey
England’s 3-0 victory over old rival Scotland put them in a commanding position to qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia. Daniel Sturridge, Adam Lallana and Gary Cahill all scored headed goals as England dominated proceedings at Wembley and ended a turbulent year on a high.
The year 2016 has had ups and downs for England, but one of its major positives has been Kyle Walker. The Spurs full-back has impressed both club and country, making the right-back slot his own.
Walker has come a long way in the last three seasons,he has been one of the most improved players in the Premier League and has become an asset for both Spurs and England. His club manager Mauricio Pochettino has been instrumental in his development as he continues to evolve into one of the finest full-backs in Europe.
In September, Walker followed his England team-mates Eric Dier, Danny Rose and Dele Alli in pledging his long-term future to Spurs, signing a new five-year deal. Walker stated: “It’s like my second home and I’m happy to commit my future to Tottenham.”
His magnificent form for Spurs has helped him maintain his place in the England squad, but now he is firmly established as England’s first choice right-back and his performance against Scotland on Friday fully justified his selection. Walker was outstanding, and although Lallana won man of the match, the man from Sheffield ran him very close and could easily have picked up the award.
Throughout the game, Walker was a constant outlet on the right hand side. He provided England’s width, hogging the right touch line which allowed Lallana to drift infield and influence proceedings. Sturridge opened the scoring midway through the first half, meeting Walker’s inch perfect cross before second half goals from Lallana and Cahill sealed a routine win for the three lions.
At 26 years of age, Walker is now approaching the best years of his career and he is playing week in week out. In his development years however, he found it hard to pin down a permanent position in the Spurs and England XI’s.
When Harry Redknapp signed Walker for Spurs in 2009, he immediately loaned him back to his hometown club Sheffield United where he spent another season before going on loan again to Aston Villa a year later. Since his return to Spurs in 2011, Walker has been a permanent fixture in the team but in the last two seasons he has answered his critics emphatically.
Walker has always been a useful player offensively, but the defensive side of his game has often been questioned. However, his defending has improved remarkably and last season he was part of the joint best defence in the Premier League playing 33 games for Spurs. So far this season Walker has retained his position, playing all 11 of Spurs’ league games.
Over the past couple of seasons, Walker’s all-round play has been wonderful. Part of Pochettino’s high-energy game, Walker is a player who bases his game around energy as he is relentlessly up and down the right flank. Many aspects of his play are reminiscent of Juventus and Brazil right-back Dani Alves, who is widely regarded as one of the best full-backs of the modern generation.
Walker has not had his place in the Spurs and England defence put on a plate for him, he has held off stiff competition. In 2015, Pochettino splashed out £4 million to sign former-Burnley defender Kieran Trippier who has kept Walker on his toes and perhaps brought out the best in him. Trippier is no slouch, and when selected he rarely disappoints, but Walker’s excellent form is severely restricting Trippier’s game time.
At international level, Walker missed out on Roy Hodgson’s Euro 2012 squad selection and was overlooked again two years later for the FIFA World Cup in Brazil. Walker played second fiddle to former-Liverpool full-back Glen Johnson, but since 2014 he has held off competition from current Liverpool full-back Nathaniel Clyne and his consistently good performances have made him one of the main-stays in the England team in the past two years.
Euro 2016 may have been a disappointing campaign for England but Walker was arguably England’s star performer. In the aftermath of the tournament, England has played five games and Walker has played every minute of all of them.
With England continuously failing miserably in major tournaments, it is clear they have weaknesses. However, it is also clear they have strengths in the team and one major strength is the right-back position where Walker is showing the consistency and efficiency required to be one of the best in his position for many years to come.
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