Kyle Walker fears the decision of England manager Gareth Southgate to play him out of position has resulted in his international career taking a step backwards.
The Manchester City star has admitted he would rather not be playing at centre back for England, but insists he is happy to sacrifice himself for the sake of Southgate’s plans.
The defender is a certain starter for England, but he is set to be deployed on the right side of three centre backs with former Tottenham team-mate Kieran Trippier in pole position to play in Walker’s preferred role as a right back.
Defender Kyle Walker feels his international career may have taken a step backwards
Walker is recognised as one of the best attacking right backs in Europe, but Southgate sprang a surprise by playing him in the heart of his defence in March’s friendly against Holland and has persisted with the tactic. The England manager believes Walker’s rapid pace can be a vital ingredient in a successful defence during the World Cup.
However, the 28-year-old admits he would much rather be deployed in the position where he has made his name.
‘Is centre back my preferred position? Of course not. I want to play right back,’ said Walker. ‘I have worked my whole life to get to where I am now in a World Cup squad, and to showcase my talent in the World Cup stage, playing in my position.
‘But I’m a team player. I will do anything for the team. If that means the gaffer thinks to help the team out I should play there I am all for it.
‘I have been playing professionally since I was 18 at right back. To get to your first World Cup and probably not be playing in your preferred position where you want to showcase your talent is not disappointing but it is like, ‘OK it is a little bit of a step back’.
Gareth Southgate played Walker in the heart of defence against Holland and has persisted
‘I have to move on from it. I’m a defender first and foremost, and if I’m playing right centre half I am even more of a defender than the wing backs. If I can get forward I am sure you will see me up there. I have to be professional. I have to manage the game correctly, and see what we are doing in the game.’
Monday’s opener against Tunisia will be Walker’s first World Cup experience having missed Brazil 2014 through injury. The City star, however, was part of the England squad who failed so miserably at Euro 2016.
‘People say we owe the fans a good tournament but first and foremost we owe it to ourselves because the last tournament wasn’t good enough,’ he said. ‘I’ve said it before that if we didn’t score the early goal (in the last-16 defeat against Iceland in Euro 2016) I think it would have been different.
‘But because we scored the early goal we took our foot off the gas and got complacent so it was a good learning curve for us. We are definitely stronger mentally now and the whole team is stronger on and off the field.’
On missing the previous World Cup, Walker added: ‘I was away somewhere. I missed it through injury.
The England manager is trying to reshape the way the national team play at the tournament
‘I watched a few of the games but it is hard when you’re meant to be on the plane, meant to be there, and all of a sudden injury takes you a step back. It is difficult to watch.
‘I was fully behind the lads. It didn’t work out how we wanted it to. We have to put it right this year.’
Meanwhile, Walker insists he has no qualms about his family flying to Russia despite the threat of racism. Danny Rose, among others, has instructed family and friends to stay behind during the tournament due to fears of abuse.
But Walker added: ‘My dad is big enough and can stick up for himself. I can assure you of that! My mum and dad are going out, my missus and my oldest son. It does concern me a little bit but if I sat there and thought all my life about dos and don’ts then I wouldn’t get anywhere. I’d just stay in my house.’
Author: Nancy Parker
Nancy Parker is a five time Emmy Award winning journalist and seven time Emmy nominee who has spent almost twenty five years covering news in South Louisiana. She has anchored every prime time newscast at WVUE FOX8 during her twenty year tenure in New Orleans.