Two games without a win and still no striker to back-up Harry Kane. The storm is in full flow now. Since Mame Biram Diouf managed to glance the ball past Hugo Lloris on Saturday, there has been little respite from the torrent of abuse, disappointment, blame and attempted explanation. With the debate raging over Daniel Levy, our transfer strategy and the tactics of Mauricio Pochettino, it is understandable when any other points of interest get lost among the debris.
If you can take your eyes off of the circus surrounding the club’s failings so far, you may have noticed the understated but solid start to the campaign by Kyle Walker. Two adjectives that are not normally associated with Walker or his style of play, but it seems he has taken a slightly new approach for the new season, focusing on defending first, before pursuing his more acclaimed attacking play.
The England international recognises this himself, noting in a recent interview that Pochettino ‘puts a lot of trust in us [full-backs] to get forward but we’ve got to get back as well’.
Walker’s side have started off the season frustratingly; unfortunately, it wouldn’t be Spurs if they hadn’t. The defeat to Manchester United was unlucky and undeserved and the draw to Stoke was infuriating given the comfortable position Pochettino’s side were in until the 78th minute.
The opening day loss of course, came courtesy of Walker’s unfortunate own goal. Attempting to get back and cover, the Sheffield-born right-back stabbed his toe at the ball to divert it from Wayne Rooney’s path to safety; instead it found the corner of the deputising Michel Vorm’s net.
His inconsistent form over the last few years has made Walker an easy target and the own goal provided the perfect stick to beat him with for those that believe Spurs are wasting their time with the 25 year-old. Of course, the less reactionary, and in fairness the majority, of fans rightly blamed the lazy pass from Nabil Bentaleb rather than Walker.
From commentators and fans alike, Walker was praised for his overall performance on the opening day and without the one unlucky moment of error, his most vocal detractors would have had little to shout about. Walker showed maturity and discipline, two other adjectives too often alien to his play, keeping Ashley Young subdued on the same ground that the same opponent had embarrassed him on less than five months before.
His performance against Stoke is perhaps harder to judge. This time, Walker was faced with Marko Arnautovic. The Austrian was possibly Stoke’s most lively player and was involved throughout the game. However, Walker didn’t really allow him to do anything of note. Arnautovic drew an early foul and booking from his opposing defender, but very rarely got the beating of him from that point on. Walker could have done better to stop Stephen Ireland’s cross for the visitors’ equaliser, but both of Tottenham’s centre-halves are just as much to blame, allowing Diouf a free header for the third time in the match.
On the whole, Walker has probably been Tottenham’s early stand-out performer, albeit in a very average start for the club. It bodes well for what could’ve been a potentially tricky season for him personally. The arrival of Kieran Trippier brought some much-needed competition for the right-back spot, something Walker hasn’t really had since he was first breaking into the team under Harry Redknapp.
His first full season was almost a spotless success. He exploded onto the scene, a bright, young, electrically fast talent that capped off a wonderful season with a spectacular winner against Arsenal at White Hart Lane and the PFA Young Player of the Year award. Spurs fans rejoiced, finally a quality right-back, a first since Stephen Carr almost a whole decade before.
Yet, his second season as the established starter in the position for Tottenham proved the harsh reality of being a young defender in the Premier League. After missing out on Euro 2012 through injury, Walker struggled throughout, with high profile mistakes often costing Spurs points and leading to a huge downfall in his stock and reputation.
In the following season, amongst the madness of Andre Villas-Boas’ last weeks and Tim Sherwood’s reign, Walker managed to return to some form, perhaps not as spectacular as before but certainly with much more solidity. Another downturn last season though led to a loss of faith from many.
The unreliable form of the former Sheffield United defender is why many had visions of the end for Walker in this pre-season, believing Trippier will soon become first choice. We are often too quick to label players, leading to them forming a stigma and becoming a scapegoat. Danny Rose is the prime example and it has taken him a whole season, but he has shaken the cloud that once hung over him to become a loved and essential member of the team.
Walker has made a promising start to doing the same. If he can use Trippier in the same way that Rose used the arrival of Ben Davies for motivation, we may once again see what talent Tottenham’s number 2 possesses.
Walker’s shining talent has always been his pace, but his strongest asset has also become a curse for him. People assume because he is quick, he is a poor defender, constantly being caught out of position.
Walker is far from the smartest defender that Tottenham have ever had, but he knows his speed is a tool for him, not something that makes him lazy, but something he can use to his advantage. He is aware that he can give himself more room than most defenders because he trusts his legs to make up the yards and recover when he needs to. Good defending involves using what you are good at to the best of your ability and Walker does this shamelessly.
The individual errors must be eradicated and Walker needs to show he can find the right balance between defence and attack consistently, but we should not confuse his use of his strongest asset with downright stupidity. He has shown before that he most certainly knows how to defend.
As fun as it is to have a shiny new signing, there is no need to rush Trippier into the team when we have a talented defender already who will hopefully prosper from ‘the Davies effect’. Like Rose, Walker won our hearts as a boy with a goal we all dream of scoring. This season, he has the chance to prove himself as a player and a man.