The ex-Sheffield United starlet went from making just the one cameo off the bench for Spurs in the 2010-11 season, to missing just one league game for the Lilywhites last term, securing a fourth placed finish and bagging the PFA Young Player of the Year award in the process. Not bad considering he only celebrated his 22nd birthday in May.
Consequently, after such a hugely successful season for Spurs, it was almost taken as a cast iron guarantee, that Walker was set to push on this term. Such was the level of his performances for his age, that he catalyzed a feeling of expectation among the White Hart Lane support. But although not every player has a tendency to fire on all cylinders from the off, it feels as if Walker has been left in the blocks completely.
If you were to list the players that would have appeared less likely to struggle under this summer’s regime change in N17, the chances are that Kyle Walker wouldn’t be too far off the top. His strength, blistering pace and composure on the ball, all constitute the sort of attributes that the modern full-back needs to prosper within the modern game. And with such a tactically refined, forward thinking manager as Andre Villas-Boas about to enter the helm, the omens looked better for Walker than several of his defensive counterparts.
But as the season has started to really kick into gear, Walker’s performances have felt a little bit like the elephant in the room in White Hart Lane. Right or wrong, one of the more perceivably villainous figures of Spurs’ bumpy start to the Premier League, was that of Walker’s left sided counterpart at full-back, Benoit Assou-Ekotto.
Yet although the Cameroon international’s first three games of the season were fraught with more than a small element of defensive fragility and sloppy errors, Walker is now seven games into his season and it’s difficult to see quite how he’s been any better. With the PFA Young Player of the Year award under his belt, it feels like there’s been something of a reluctance to critique Tottenham’s current golden boy of the moment.
Is that accolade potentially rendering Walker bulletproof, in the eyes of some? The blame game in Tottenham’s defense can be shared equal ways, but the continuous framing of veteran centre-half William Gallas as the weak link, suggests there could be kudos to that argument. The Frenchman has made his share of mistakes too this season, but it feels as if he is left to unfairly shoulder too much of the defensive responsibility. His 35 years makes him an easy target, where as the fresh faced Walker is more often than not, given the benefit of the doubt.
Because while you can point and prod at the collective efforts of Spurs‘ defensive set-up and the role of the team as a whole in their pressing, Walker has no one to hide behind. Far too many times this season we’ve seen him struggle to clear and deal with big diagonals and he seems to have been caught out of position far more regularly than at any point last term.
Perhaps even more concerningly, is the consistency in which he’s getting beaten by his man in the one-on-one. Standing up to the 38-year-old Ryan Giggs for 45 minutes in the victory against Manchester United doesn’t bode well as arguably his best defensive display of the season. Even at times during the Panathinaikos game in Athens, the ease in which the likes of Quincy Owusu-Abeyie were sailing past him, offered more than a little cause for concern.
Of course, it’s easy to focus on the negatives and Walker has hardly been the sole culprit in Spurs’ porous defensive play so far. His pace has served his team well in the recovery and he remains a cutting attacking outlet. But for all his work up on the right end of the pitch, he’s got to ensure he gets the basics right first. Setting up Gareth Bale against Reading is all very well, but it’s rendered redundant if you switch off the way he did, to let Hal Robson-Kanu score at the other end, in the same game. Someone needs to remind him he’s a defender, first and foremost.
If indeed Walker is going through a tough patch of form, than as with Assou-Ekotto, he needs to be supported and coaxed through it by both supporters and management. But even though the whole side are trying to adapt to an extensive set of tactical changes, you can’t help but feel that Walker’s problems stem from his own mindset, as opposed to that of Villas-Boas’. The lack of concentration and the sloppy headers out are as much his to rectify, as anyone else. He has the talent to excel, but we’re not seeing the best of it.
Andre Villas-Boas’ side are still settling and even in their 2-0 win against Aston Villa at home on Sunday, we can see that they’re not quite the finished article yet. But as more games tick by, so does the period of possible reprieve for the players, especially when others such as Steven Caulker and Jan Vertonghen, seem to be adapting so well. Walker’s getting away with it, as he is yet to really make a high profile mistake that has cost his team points. If he carries on like this, it’s a matter of time before he does.
It may seem like a harsh assessment, but it’s only because we know exactly what he’s capable of. He showed that he’s up to the task of preforming as a top class right back in this division. It’s time for him to refresh all our memories.
Do you think I’m being too harsh in my assessment of Kyle Walker? Or are you convinced that he needs to step it up a notch? Let me know how you feel on Twitter: follow @samuel_antrobus and bat me your opinions.