Kyle Walker spoke to the press about Tottenham Hotspur at a Call of Duty's Black Ops III DLC release. As reported in the Telegraph, the athletic right-back talked about his own career, Poche's demeanor, his fitness standards at the club, and Spurs future, .
Pochettino's reign has been marked by an influx of young players who have produced in a monumental way. Whether you are the Chairman of the club or a diehard supporter, this is the developmental model that one wants to see. Dele Alli, Eric Dier, Kevin Wimmer, Harry Kane, Nabil Bentaleb, Ryan Mason, Erik Lamela, Heung-Min Son, and Tom Carroll are all examples of young players making an impact within the team. Yet not long ago, it was Kyle Walker who was the celebrated model of a youngster who came good at Tottenham Hotspur.
A controversial player in the eyes of fans, it is easy to forget his pedigree. Walker won the 2011-12 PFA Young Player of the Year Award, an honor he received over the likes of Gareth Bale and Sergio Aguero, and was included in that season's PFA Team of the Year. But his tenure at Spurs hasn't always been roses. Poor positioning, fluctuating form, and injuries have dampened Walker's Spurs career since his banner 2011-12 year. So much so that before this season supporters questioned his place in the team. According to Walker, even the player himself needed some answers.
"I needed to prove to myself - to the manager, to the fans, even to my mum and dad - that I'm not just an average player. I need to kick on. I'm 25 years old, I'm not a little kid any more. I'm an experienced player."
"I'm probably my biggest critic. I'm a perfectionist. I want everything done right. When it's not done right, I'm not happy. Ask my missus, she probably takes most of it. I want to improve, I want to be the best I can be. It's a short career."
All professional athletes need an insatiable drive to succeed to be part of their repertoire, but few professional managers seem as hellbent on physical sacrifice as Mauricio Pochettino. The idea is simply that if players have reached the top of the game, they know how to handle themselves from a fitness perspective. Kyle Walker attests that this isn't the case with Poche.
"I'm not going to lie, at the start it was horrible. Horrible. When you reach the first team as a professional, it's kind of like, ‘If you want go and do gym, do gym. If you don't, you don't have to'. But when he came in, gym was compulsory.
"We've got four games left, and we're still running almost every other team off the pitch. The only team close to us, if I remember correctly, is Bournemouth.
"That's what I meant before about doing the basics right. We can all play football, but one of the basics of this game is that you need to run about and work for each other. That's what's pushed us on to the next level. Now, if he says ‘do a gym session in the afternoon', it's a normal thing. We just get on and do it."
Walker's claim to fame is his unrivaled physicality. The constant lung-bursting sixty yard runs up and down the right flank are the hallmark of his game. From the outside, it looks as if he never tires. Thus it is interesting for him to expound on the idea that he has gained in the fitness department under Pochettino. That the training regimen is required and uniform for all players makes the squad that much more dangerous. Doing doubles during the season or staying after practice for a little extra work are acts that are intertwined with legend. They are commitments that only top players make. Yet Poche takes choice completely out of the equation for his players. These are not individual acts of the driven, but mandatory schedules for an entire squad. And this ethos certainly adds to a positive team dynamic. The more time spent within a team, the more likely it is that everyone will get along.
"We've got a lot of different characters. I'm probably one that's known for jokes, but Dele and Eric are probably pipping me at the minute. Jan's always there with a bit of banter. Then you've got the sensible ones: Hugo, Toby [Alderweireld], Michel Vorm, like parents trying to keep us on a leash. We all complement each other well. It's just a joy to go into work every single day."
"[My relationship with Pochettino] like a friend, but you have so much respect for him because of what he's done in his football career. The thing I've warmed to the most is that you can knock on his door.
"My granddad had a stroke two or three months ago. I knocked on his door and said: ‘I need to go to Sheffield to see my granddad.' He said, ‘Never mind about the double session. Family's more important. Go and see your granddad.'
To me, that said everything about the man that he is."
The Dier-Alli bromance grabs the headlines, but this team is truly tight knit. The Belgium and Ajax consortium have longstanding friendships, while many of the English players have grown up together at both the club and youth international level. Poche's presence though is what binds this all together. Intense and passionate, the Argentine shows faith in his players on the pitch, but also is available off it. The well-known Danny Rose prank about his fake transfer is the anecdote that comes to mind, but as Walker notes, Poche is an open door manager. He had a long playing career himself and understands the paramount importance of transparent communication. Players know where they are at with him at all times and, equally as important, they know that the ship Poche steers is driven by meritocracy. If players perform, they play.
Walker's insight into the team is so important because he is the most veteran Spurs player in the team. He played essential roles under Redknapp, AVB, Sherwood, and now Pochettino. In this regard, his opinion in comparing this team to that of year's past is unrivaled.
"If you'd said to me at the start of the season that we'd finish second, I'd have said thanks. But with how the season's gone? You have to give full credit to Leicester, they're there for a reason. But there are still a lot of minutes to be played. I hope it goes down to the wire. I just hope we can keep going for these last four games, and we'll see where it goes."
"I was talking to [former team-mate] Jermaine Jenas earlier about the players we played with. Bale, Luka Modric, [Rafael] van der Vaart. Ledley King. You'd probably have chosen that team on paper. But for work ethic and team spirit, it's this team all day long. The enthusiasm. The hunger. We're young, but we're not immature.
"We've set the bar now, and everything below this bar is unacceptable. We've had so many twists and turns at the club. Managers have come, managers have gone. Now we've got a good foundation, a great manager, a great bunch of lads. Hopefully, we can step on for the next 10 years."
"I've been here six years, and it's the closest I've ever come to being a Premier League champion. That's why I signed for Tottenham. To say to my two little boys: ‘Look, on that day, daddy won the trophy'."
Among the treats of supporting Tottenham Hotspur is that a fan is nearly guaranteed of witnessing world-class players play attractive football. The drawback is that this idea only typically extends to a few players per season. The abundance in talent in this team is stark, but so is its fitness and commitment to each other. Few football teams are as cohesive as this one and there is nothing in the immediate future that indicates a challenge to this status. With four games left in this historic season, Tottenham Hotspur have everything left to play for.