Did you know that Kyle Walker was PFA Young Player of the Year in the 2011/2012 season. He beat luminaries such as Sergio Aguero, Danny Welbeck, Daniel Sturridge and his team-mate Gareth Bale to the award. He was also selected in the PFA Team of the Year for that season as well. Walker was selected by his peers over right backs such as Branislav Ivanovic, Pablo Zabaleta and Bacary Sagna.
It was a deserved award for Walker that season. Despite being bought by Spurs in the summer of 2009, he spent periods on loan at Sheff Utd (09-10 season), QPR (6months 2010/2011) and then finally Aston Villa in the Premier League, 2011/2012 was his 1st season as first choice right back at Spurs.
Walker replaced the Croatian Vedran Corluka at right back for Spurs. Corluka was slow and ponderous, but he had a good footballing brain, and was invariably in the right defensive position, when Spurs were under pressure. Walker defensively was suspect, but he added dynamism to the Spurs side from right back. He was like a Duracell bunny, bombing up and down the right hand side, dovetailing with fellow speedster Aaron Lennon. Spurs fans were wowed by his performances going forward, and Walker grew even fonder into their hearts, when he scored the winning goal in the North London derby against Arsenal. However what was notable during matches was that Walker was heavily reliant on his pace to get him out of situations. He was never goal side of his attacker, and often left huge gaps between himself and the right-sided centre back. This led to some heart-stopping moments, but Walker’s electric pace always seemed to get Spurs out of this scrapes.
Kyle Walker’s impressive Tottenham form, also saw him selected by England, and he made his international debut during the 2011/2012 season, under Fabio Capello. Maybe under the tactical and cagey Capello, he could learn the intricacies of defending. However this was never going to pan out, as Capello resigned in from the England job in February 2012.
As that season ended, Spurs fans were excited by the prospect of having Kyle Walker as a long-term right back. He had all the attributes of being a top class defender, he just needed to learn to stop relying on instinct, and to read the game better.
When Harry Redknapp was replaced at Spurs by Andre Villas-Boas, Tottenham were never going to be as attacking. More emphasis was going to be put on team shape, and Spurs were going to be more methodical in their approach. Under AVB Spurs were dull, and heavily reliant on the brilliance of Gareth Bale. With Spurs playing a slower style of possession based football, defensive stability was key. Any error from a defender was going to be magnified, as Spurs were never going to outscore the opposition. You could sense that Walker was strangled by this style of football, he was not allowed to bomb forward as much, and would try risky bits of play in the defensive third. None more so than in a key game against Chelsea at White Hart Lane, with Spurs chasing the ball, he tried to nut-meg Juan Mata, when he was the last man back. Mata pinched the ball, raced away and scored the decisive goal in a Chelsea victory.
During the last few months of AVB’s reign Tottenham were shambolic at the back. Regularly shipping goals to the top sides in the league. Walker was not alone in being criticised, but he was not improving from his debut season. In fact he was getting worse. He was often out of place, and guilty of really simple basic errors. This didn’t change when Tim Sherwood took temporary control. Sherwood was tactically inept he ended up playing Kyle Walker in a defensive midfield position away to Chelsea. It was a horror show. Walker was like a fish out of water, and made another horrendous mistake gifting Chelsea a goal.
However it then transpired that Kyle Walker needed major stomach surgery. Had this injury restricted his game? Physically perhaps, but mentally he was not improving. Walker was still making the basic errors which had inflicted his game in his debut season at Spurs. He was not reading the game, and was too impetuous in the tackle.
During his time on the sidelines (8months) Spurs fans would have hoped that Walker would have studied the game, looked at how he could improve, and hopefully when he returned he was a better all round defender.
Spurs in the 2014/2015 under Mauricio Pochettino were playing a pressing game, which has the full backs high up the pitch, and inverted wingers in front of them. Perfect for Kyle Walker’s attacking side of his game. However what was he like defensively was the key question.
Kyle Walker has been in the Tottenham side since early December this season. He is undoubtedly the 1st choice right back, but his game has not improved since 2011/2012. In fact he is less of an attacking threat than he was that season.
Admittedly Walker is only 24 years of age, and he still has time on his side. But so far in his career he has not rectified any of the basic errors he makes when defending. Luckily for him he still has his pace to get him out of situations of his own making. However later on his career his pace will have gone, and will have to rely on his ability to read the game.
His ability to read the game has not progressed in the last 4 seasons, and Spurs fans who are not the most patient will hope that he engages his brain in coming seasons, otherwise Kyle Walker’s highpoint of his career maybe his very first season as a first team player at Tottenham.