Kyle Walker is back in the news today. The former Tottenham Hotspur (and current Manchester City) right back has a long interview in the Daily Mail. It’s an interesting interview that touches on a variety of subjects including his relationship with Pep Guardiola, his status as a center back for England at this summer’s World Cup, and the implicit positional battles with both Liverpool’s Joe Gomez and Tottenham’s Kieran Trippier for international minutes.
But the most interesting bits for Spurs fans comes when he talks about his £45m departure from Spurs for Manchester City in the summer of 2017. Walker has mostly stayed quiet about the circumstances that led him to leave Tottenham and his relationship with Mauricio Pochettino, but in the Mail interview, he breaks that silence.
Walker acknowledges that he went to Pochettino to say that he wanted to leave Spurs for a new challenge, but disputes the account that Pochettino wrote in Guillem Balague’s book Brave New World as both inaccurate and even a little hurtful.
First, here’s what Pochettino wrote about the way Walker said he wanted to leave.
Walker came to my office after the Watford game. ‘Gaffer, I’ve been at Tottenham for nine years. I’ve thought about it and my heart isn’t here any more. Nor is my head. I’ve given all I have to give. I wanted to tell you before I tell my agent that I want to leave this summer.’
‘Kyle, you have to stay professional. There’s a month and a half of the season to go. We’re battling for the Premier League and FA Cup. We have to be focused and finish the campaign strongly.’
‘OK, gaffer. But it’s already decided.’
‘Well, that doesn’t just depend on you or me. It depends on the club, above all. You’ve disappointed me because you’ve decided to tell me that you want to leave when there is a month and bit left in the competition . . . You could’ve sucked it up, kept quiet, trained, played and helped the team when not picked . . . And at the end of the season you could’ve come and told me.’
Miguel was present. I always try to ensure there are witnesses during private conversations. I considered it to be an alarming lack of respect for his teammates. It’s also a slap in the face for the club that turned him into a professional.
— Balague, Guillem. Brave New World: Inside Pochettino’s Spurs (p. 253). Orion Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
Walker disputes this narrative as inaccurate, saying that it doesn’t represent his side of the story, and that he felt betrayed that details of what he thought was a private conversation between himself and his manager ended up in a tell-all book.
“ I was hurt a lot by that. He said his door was always open and I thought it was a private meeting we had. So I kept quiet but then he went and wrote about it... or his version of it. If he was going to do that he might as well have called a press conference and told everyone. He told one side of the story, but it’s a side of a story I don’t agree with.
“He said he had a witness in there, but he didn’t tell the correct story, no way. Up until now I have never said my part. I have stayed quiet and showed a level of respect to Tottenham and I always will.
“The manager gave me my chance to showcase my talent. But people don’t know the ins and outs of everything and it is about time I told people what happened from my side.”
Walker remains deeply grateful to Pochettino and to Tottenham for how they developed him as a footballer and as a player. The interview states that he very nearly retracted the comments about his departure from Spurs because he didn’t want to come across as disrespectful to the club that pulled him from Sheffield and turned him into an England international. He even seems to suggest that the gulf between himself and Pochettino is not insurmountable.
“Maurico was fantastic for me. I was young, needed to improve and he improved me. He taught me to look after myself, eat right and rest. I will never forget how much he did.”
It’s interesting reading Walker’s account of his departure. There’s no question that he left Spurs because he was wanting something different from his football. I suspect he recognized that Kieran Trippier, whom he is still competing with for minutes at right back in England’s side, was providing him with significant competition at Spurs, but he also noted that this was an opportunity to move to one of the best teams in England, closer to his home in the northern part of England, that was set up to win things and win them quickly. That’s a powerful pull, and it’s hard to fault him for that, especially after City won the league last season. Even so, Walker seems pained by Spurs fans’ reactions to his departure.
“I have had a few people calling me a snake and stuff. It hurts because I gave everything to that club. And everything I am now I owe to that club. So yes, it hurts when I go back there now, but I guess it’s just a part of football.
“I have justified why I wanted to come to Manchester City because I have won trophies and improved. When I first signed I wondered if I had made the right decision. Tottenham had finished above Manchester City two years on the bounce and were going places. But because I wasn’t playing I needed to go.
’So I am happy now and happy back in the north. I am my mum’s only child and she missed me down south. It’s not the main reason to be here but this was an opportunity to head back north, get my hunger back and to discover something different. I did want to prove I could do this somewhere else. I think I have done that.”
As a Spurs fan, I’ve always felt sympathetic to Kyle Walker, even as his transfer saga dragged on and it was clear that he wanted to go. He never dragged Spurs in the media, and he always seemed almost apologetic that he wanted to make this move, even when it was clear he was ready to go. There are plenty of Spurs fans who would disagree with me here, and that’s okay too.
I am glad, however, that he feels comfortable sharing his side of the story. The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle, and it seems that there were hurt feelings on both sides. That’s unfortunate, but as Walker says, it’s football. Maybe some day he and Pochettino can reconcile.