During Tottenham Hotspur's poorest performances during the 2011-12 season, Kyle Walker was regularly criticized by members of this site's community, including myself. Sometimes he was a scapegoat for a poor team performance and sometimes he was downright abused, but most of the criticism sent his way was completely fair.
He wasn't a good player last year, and did very little well other than his athletic plays. I made fun of the PFA and Walker when he was named the Young Player of the Year, and I'm not going to apologize for it because it was ridiculous. He actively hindered Tottenham's chances to win in a lot of games. Dude was just bad.
This year? It's been a completely different story. Walker got off to a bit of a rocky start and still isn't Cafu by any stretch of the imagination, but he's a good player now. He's gotten much better positionally as a defender and he's better at timing his tackles. He's better at picking his spots to go forward. He knows, for the most part, when it's okay to make a risky pass and when he has to make the safe play. He gives the ball away in dangerous spots less frequently. He's turned into a consistent player.
Walker got a lot of criticism for his giveaway against Liverpool, and it was well deserved. Tottenham were the better team in that match up until that point, and that was the moment that turned the game around. I still think he was more responsible than any other Tottenham player for those two dropped points. But last season, those kinds of mistakes were what we expected from Walker. He made mistakes of that magnitude seemingly once every other game. Now, that mistake stands out as an anomaly. I can't recall any particular mistake from last season because he made so many. This season, I remember one vividly. That's a good sign.
Against Chelsea on Wednesday, Spurs' midfield three and Benoit Assou-Ekotto gave the ball away frequently. Michael Dawson had one of the worst games he's had all season -- if not the worst -- while Tom Huddlestone's lack of mobility showed and Jan Vertonghen was less than spectacular. On what seemed like a dozen occasions, Chelsea had dangerous counters created by bad turnovers, but they only scored on one of them. They could have been more incisive, sure, but a lot of their failures to score had to do with Walker regularly getting back faster than everyone else and slowing down counters. He was Spurs' best defender by a mile against Chelsea, and he's been so good in every game since that Liverpool debacle that it wasn't surprising.
Walker still has a lot of room to improve as a defender, but he's no longer a liability. His anticipation and positioning are now good enough that he is an asset to the team, and better than anyone else Spurs could play in his spot or realistically acquire for a reasonable fee. Playing him through a season and a half-long rough patch appears to have paid off considerably.