We never actually heard Kyle Walker’s side of the story.
Since last spring, the news in the football media was all about Kyle Walker and his dissatisfaction with Tottenham Hotspur. The media coverage was relentless. It started as soon as he started being left on the bench for critical matches: the FA Cup semifinal against Chelsea, the final match at White Hart Lane. All through the summer he was made out as the villain: He wants out. He’s only concerned with money. He has no loyalty. He was never very good anyway. It didn’t help that he was widely considered as the best right back in the Premier League at the time, which both made him a target for adulation and for transfer interest.
Now Walker has opened up in an interview with Oliver Kay in the Sunday Times (£). The honest interview reveals a player who is open and honest about his time at Tottenham. He’s grateful for what Spurs did for him and the opportunities he was given, but acknowledged that it was time for the Sheffield native to move on.
How difficult was it to leave Tottenham? “Incredibly,” he says. “They were the ones that gave me my Premier League opportunity. They believed in me. I’m not going to sit here and lie and say it wasn’t tough. It was very tough. Having spent eight years there, that club is in my heart. I’m not going to deny that. Tottenham is in my heart. Those last few months were difficult, though.”
— Oliver Kay, The Sunday Times Sport
In a lot of ways, Walker’s comments more or less confirm what we already knew: for whatever reason, Walker and Pochettino’s relationship deteriorated. Why isn’t exactly clear — it was thought there were disagreements that centered around Walker’s performances in training, or his ability to play more than one match in a week. Finances may also have something to do with it. Whatever the cause, the end result was that Pochettino turned to Kieran Trippier for the biggest games in Spurs’ run-in, which to Walker felt like a betrayal.
“Not starting against Chelsea in the FA Cup semi-final or the last North London derby at White Hart Lane or the last game there, against Manchester United, having been there for eight years, that hurt,” he says. “Sometimes I feel like crying when I think about it — that I spent eight years there and I’ll never see that place again. It hurts. But I’m a man. I’m a professional. I was encouraging Tripps [Kieran Trippier], wanting him to do well, wanting the team to do well. The gaffer [Mauricio Pochettino] picked the team he thought was best and I had to deal with it. The important thing was winning those games.
“Once I knew I was allowed to leave Tottenham and that I wasn’t as much in the manager’s plans as I thought I was going to be, there were a number of clubs I could have gone to. But when this opportunity came up, to work with the manager here [Pep Guardiola], I couldn’t turn it down. It was football reasons first and foremost. If this was a team that booted it long, I wouldn’t have come because it wouldn’t have helped my game. But after speaking to the gaffer here, knowing the players he was going to bring, I thought this team was going to be a force.”
— Oliver Kay, Sunday Times Sport
The other thing that comes through obliquely through Walker’s comments is the sense that he may never have really believed in the Tottenham project, or that he was tired of waiting for Spurs to win things. Walker admits that by moving to Manchester City he’s ready to win team honors, something that has eluded Spurs since they lifted the League Cup in 2008.
“Not just the league,” he says. “I want to win the FA Cup. I want to win the League Cup. I want to win the Champions League. I don’t want to look back on my career and think, ‘I’ve got a nice house, I’ve got this, that and the other, but no trophies in my cabinet.’ At the moment, every trophy I’ve got in my cabinet is one that I’ve won myself.”
— Oliver Kay, Sunday Times Sport
I’m not actually angry at Kyle Walker. I’m not sure I ever was, really. Players leave for all sorts of reasons, and while were fans were angry for wanting out right at the point where Spurs were on the cusp of moving to the next level, there were good reasons for Walker wanting to move on. We talked about them on this very site: Walker was good enough to start for any club in England, he had probably one good move left in his career, City could offer both top-quality football and top wages, and this was probably a good time to move on a pace-dependent fullback who is at the peak of his ability.
Moreover, Walker’s comments also suggest that the primary mover for Walker turning his attentions elsewhere was Pochettino. We may not know what happened between Poch and Walker that soured things, but indications are that the transfer itself was handled amicably and without vitriol. By all accounts, once the decision was made for Walker to move on, everything was handled in a professional and equitable manner.
I like Walker. Footballer’s careers are short, and it’s difficult for me to find fault in a player wanting to move to a new situation where he can better himself and his career. While there are still some missing pieces that we may not ever fully know or understand about what happened to him at Spurs last season, I’m glad we have a chance to hear his side of the story. Knowing a little bit more about what happened from his perspective and how he still has fondness for Tottenham and the teammates he left behind makes me feel just a bit better about how everything went down.