Kyle Walker is, by some distance, our best right back. In fact, he’s one of the top five right backs in England probably one of the top ten in the world.
Fullbacks often do not age well, especially fullbacks like Walker.
Here’s why: Kyle Walker’s two biggest assets as a right back are his pace and his strength. The strength allows him to defend effectively against powerful wingers, but it’s his pace that really sets him apart. Particularly in a system like Mauricio Pochettino’s (or Pep Guardiola’s) it’s important that you have fullbacks with plenty of speed getting up and down the wing. The fullbacks are often asked to supply width in the attacking third, but they also still have defensive responsibilities and need to be able to chase the play down from behind when the opposition counters. All those responsibilities require someone with a lot of speed. (This, incidentally, is also one of the many reasons that Danny Rose is a far superior option at left back compared to Ben Davies. Davies simply isn’t fast enough.)
The difficulty for Walker is that pace is one of the first things that a footballer begins to lose. Pace-dependent players age poorly because once their speed goes, they don’t have anything else to set them apart. We see this regularly with strikers. Liverpool has seen it three times in the Premier League era alone as Michael Owen, Fernando Torres, and Daniel Sturridge all began to fade by their mid-to-late 20s.
The other thing to consider with Walker is the number of matches he has played. Over the past six seasons he has played 79% of all possible league fixtures. He has made 212 appearances overall for Tottenham in six seasons. That’s a lot of mileage. And most fullbacks don’t even have six seasons of good-to-great football in them. It’s a demanding position.
Some do play at an elite level for longer than that, of course: Patrice Evra, Branislav Ivanovic, and Ashley Cole all come to mind amongst EPL fullbacks. You could also add Dani Alves, Marcelo, and Philipp Lahm to the list. But the names on that list make the point for me: Evra and Cole were two of the best left backs of their generation. Ivanovic only had seven good years at Chelsea before he began to fade. Alves, Marcelo, and Lahm, meanwhile, are almost certainly three of the top 10 fullbacks ever to play the game with Alves and Lahm probably being two of the top five.
This is all to say that the odds are very good that Walker only has 1-2 elite seasons left in the tank and may not even have that much left. If a club wants to pay us £60m for a player likely to be no more than a bench player in two seasons at the most, we should absolutely take that.
What’s the downside risk to selling Walker?
The risk to selling Walker is fairly obvious: The dropoff in quality from Walker (right now) to Kieran Trippier is considerable. If we go into next season with Trippier and Kyle Walker-Peters as our right back options... well, we should be concerned. Next season’s best XI absolutely has Kyle Walker ahead of Trippier at right back. So the big risk is that we may hurt ourselves for next season by both strengthening a rival and hurting ourselves.
That said, this is a long-term move. You can’t turn down that sort of money for a right back in his late 20s. In a best-case scenario, we’d bring in a right back to replace Walker and give us more options. Walker-Peters shows promise, but is probably still a year or two away from being ready to contribute. Bringing in someone like Adam Smith on the cheap (or trying to wring one more year out of Dani Alves) is a fine stopgap to get us from here to Walker-Peters being ready for the big-time. Is it ideal? No. But if a club comes along offering you £60m for a 27-year-old speed-dependent right back, you take the deal.