So far this season Tottenham have had one of the best defences, not just in the Premier League, but across Europe. The confidence, consistency and often brilliance of our defence is personified by Kyle Walker, who completed his second century of games at Spurs against Bournemouth last weekend. Given just eighteen months ago there were serious question marks about his future at the club, it is a meteoric, and perhaps unexpected return to glory. So how has Kyle managed this renaissance?
Indeed to get to the bottom of this restoration, we must first go back to the stagnation of a player who lit the league alight in his debut season. What led to the collapse of that initial promise? When Harry Redknapp parachuted Kyle Walker into the Tottenham first XI for the first game of the 2011-12 season, neither man could have dreamt of a better season for the then 21-year-old. His attacking play and scintillating pace, saw him win plaudits up and down the country. He became a regular in the England squad, scored the winning goal in the North London Derby, and beat the likes of Sergio Aguero and Gareth Bale to the PFA Young Player of the Year Award. Under the management of Andre Villas-Boas he continued to impress, playing 97 matches in his first two years as first team regular. There were question marks about his defending and his inconsistencies but these were dismissed as the naiveties of youth, creases that could be ironed out. It appeared the sky was the limit.
However as we have seen so often with promising young players at Spurs, things started to go wrong. An apparent total lack of coaching saw Walker’s development stall. Errors crept in and his confidence plummeted. He was not helped by being part of a Tottenham defence that conceded over 100 goals in just two seasons between 2013 and 2015. To compound the situation injuries began to plague him, limiting him to just 21 appearances in the 2014-15 season. Danny Rose surpassed him and the signing of Keiran Trippier amplified questions about whether he was of the standard needed for the Pochettino revolution.
Yet, like Alan Partridge, he ‘bounced back’. He is now a stalwart in the best defence in the country, an England starter and more consistent than ever before. This improvement is in no small part down to playing next to one of the best centre halves in the league in Toby Alderweireld. However to account this improvement solely to Alderweireld would be doing Walker a disservice. He’s cut out the mistakes that used to plague his game, and hasn’t committed a single error leading to a goal in the Premier League since the opening day of last season. Furthermore he’s steadily cut down the fouls he commits under Pochettino’s tutelage. He is visibly a more mature and improved player.
It is not just defensively that Walker has improved. Going forward he is attacking with the vigour of his younger years, but in a far more penetrative manner. His passing accuracy is greater and he is winning more duels that ever before. The success rate is up to 60% from around 55% in his first season. He already has two assists this campaign and that is no coincidence – his crossing is greatly improved and he is creating an ever-increasing number of chances.
When looking to explain these improvements, Walker himself will point you in the direction of Mauricio Pochettino. Speaking earlier this year he said of Pochettino ‘‘If you’re not doing something right, he’ll come and show you or let you know. He lets you know the right way. It’s just everything about him. His aura, as well. It’s just fantastic.” Pochettino’s coaching and attention to Walker has clearly paid dividends in making him a more disciplined and intelligent player. It’s no coincidence that Walker’s improvement has been mirrored in the developments of Jan Vertonghen and Danny Rose.
So where can Walker go from here? Into his eighth season in a Tottenham shirt, he’s one of our longest serving players and one of the most respected players in the squad. Having seen off the competition of Trippier and with Kyle Walker-Peters some way off challenging, Walker can make the right-back position his own for years to come. He can even become a club legend, in his own right, particularly if the Pochettino era yields the trophies it promises to. That would be very exciting – for a starlet, to neither have collapsed under the pressure of the club, nor strived for bigger and better things, but rather fulfilling his potential and promise at Spurs.
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