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In Focus: Kyle still walking the Walk after retirement U-turns
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Cian Cheesbrough
Kyle Walker scored his first England goal against Ukraine
Kyle Walker scored his first England goal against Ukraine

After 77 caps, Kyle Walker finally scored his first England goal against Ukraine — but that moment may never have come had things panned out a little differently.

Gareth Southgate revealed he talked the Manchester City right-back out of retirement on two occasions following his equaliser to rescue a 1-1 draw yesterday.

Ahead of Tuesday's grudge match against Scotland, we look at how the 33-year-old remains crucial to Southgate's set-up.

Retirement U-turn

After Walker impressively latched onto Harry Kane's lofted pass and calmly slotted home, Southgate shocked many with his revelation about the five-time Premier League winner.

The Three Lions boss said post-match: "I've talked him out of [international] retirement twice. After the Euros [in 2021] and after the World Cup [in 2022].

"He's critical to us. If we're talking about world-class players in their position in our team then he's probably one of them.

"I think he didn't realise how much value we have for him and how important he is for us. He's probably not going to thank me for sharing that."

Kyle Walker has enjoyed an exceptional England career
Kyle Walker has enjoyed an exceptional England career

'Why stop?'

Explaining the doubts he had over his international future and his decision to remain in the fold, Walker said: "[With] the likes of Trent [Alexander-Arnold], Tripps [Kieran Trippier], Reece James coming through, you do think your days are numbered.

"And how many holidays and summers that I've sacrificed. I've been doing this since I was 19 [when] I joined the senior team — I'm 33 now.

"Me and Gareth have a good relationship off the field. We do speak and I feel that I can still bring something to the team. So why stop?"

Must be trust

Harry Maguire and Jordan Henderson's continued selection is proof Southgate likes to have players he can trust in his squad and Walker certainly falls under that category.

The former Tottenham full-back has been almost an ever-present throughout his tenure, with 55 of those 77 senior international outings coming since the 53-year-old landed the job in 2016.

Whether that be in his conventional right-back position or as the right-sided centre-back in a back three, Southgate has often found a way of accommodating the pacey Yorkshireman in his XI.

That includes starts throughout the 2018 World Cup and Euro 2020, where England reached the semi-finals and final respectively, as well as the run to the 2018 World Cup semi-finals.

Kyle Walker is one of Gareth Southgate's trusted lieutenants
Kyle Walker is one of Gareth Southgate's trusted lieutenants

Unique qualities

England are not short of talent in the right-back department but arguably do not possess any who can carry out the role Walker does for his country. 

Alexander-Arnold and James are two of English football's finest attackers but lack the defensive solidity and recovery pace that their experienced counterpart possesses.

Newcastle skipper Trippier is closer to offering a similar level of assurance at the back but the City man is arguably the most rounded option of the four. 

While the ex-Sheffield Untied youngster's attacking moments are more fleeting, his lung-bursting run and finish against the Ukrainians is an example of the quality he has in that area too.

While critics have different ideas, Southgate's pragmatic approach is unlikely to change as England approach a fourth major tournament under the current Three Lions boss next summer.

It would therefore be a surprise to not see Walker in England's XI when Euro 2024 in Germany rolls around.


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