At the beginning of the 2011-12 season, Kyle Walker was installed as Tottenham’s first-choice right-back ahead of his much more experienced teammate Vedran Corluka, two years after he was brought to the club from Sheffield United. He immediately showed great promise, scoring a couple of memorable goals – including the winner in a North London derby – and contributing fully to a fourth-placed finish, which cruelly did not prove to be enough to secure Champions League football.
He is still regarded as a key player now, but a long-term injury has stalled his progress and he has fallen a long way down the pecking order as far as the England national team is concerned. Southampton star Nathaniel Clyne is beginning to establish himself, while Phil Jones and John Stones – both natural central defenders – have played at right-back in recent international fixtures.
During his lengthy absence which encompassed much of 2014, Walker was clearly missed by Tottenham as they did not have significant cover. Kyle Naughton struggled to impress on a consistent basis before he signed for Swansea City in January, with former Sporting Lisbon man Eric Dier and often out-of-favour Vlad Chiriches proving rather unwilling replacements given their desire to play in the centre of defence.
When he did return, Walker found the going a little tough, and his lack of sharpness was badly exposed on occasion, most notably at Manchester United in March when Marouane Fellaini capitalised on his poor positional play to net the opener. Indeed, the 25-year-old’s defensive qualities can be called into question, in spite of what he brings on the attacking front.
Perhaps in the last couple of seasons he has lacked significant competition. It certainly seems to be a view held by manager Mauricio Pochettino, who has swooped to sign Burnley’s Kieran Trippier on a five-year contract, a move which may have been made as much for Walker to raise his game as to provide an extra option to help cope with the demands of balancing the Premier League and the Europa League.
He did something similar last summer at left-back by signing Ben Davies from Swansea City to challenge incumbent Danny Rose, who went on to have a strong season and keep the Welsh international on the bench much more often than not.
Trippier will definitely challenge Walker for his place in the starting XI. He started all 38 of Burnley’s Premier League matches last season as he was unable to help keep them up, but has been a consistent performer throughout his time at Turf Moor, improving immeasurably in response to the disappointment of not coming through at his first club Manchester City.
He is a terrific crosser of the ball and provides a regular threat to opposition defences, but his relentless energy ensured that he also contributed fully to Burnley’s defensive efforts last term. When the likes of Jason Shackell and Michael Duff were unable to repel an attack, Trippier would often be in the right place to make that vital intervention, and that is the kind of desire that Spurs need at the back to go with their obvious quality.
It will undoubtedly be a big step-up for Trippier, but one that he should be capable of making. Nevertheless, it should result in an ideal situation for Pochettino, who can expect to have two right-backs playing to their maximum in 2015-16.