Kyle Walker’s return to the Spurs team this season has definitely improved the side but he remains a player that frustrates.
Now in his third full season since establishing himself as Tottenham’s first-choice right-back, it’s hard to argue that he’s improved. In fact, there is a strong argument that his first season remains his best in a Spurs shirt.
It’s frustrating because Walker has all the physical tools needed to be a top player in his position, yet his defensive positioning, decision making and use of the ball in the final-third stop him making the leap from being a good player to the really good one that he could be.
Is it just a matter of time? Not necessarily. He’s 24 now and you only have to look at the career of the recently departed Aaron Lennon for an example of a familiar player who never filled his full potential.
Mauricio Pochettino is a manager with a reputation for improving players’ performances and perhaps over time he will unlock Walker’s potential. The blueprint for this, might exist in the improvement we’ve seen from Danny Rose this season.
Rose’s frailties were always exaggerated. Here was a young player trying to adapt to playing in a new position and who was often left exposed by the lack of defensive cover in front of him. Of course he was going to make mistakes along the way.
Yet he’s certainly come on strides this season, becoming the most consistent defender in the Tottenham back four. If your looking for a reason for Rose’s improvement then one reason is the competition he’s faced to even get a game.
Spurs signed Ben Davies in the summer and the Welsh full-back moved to the club with a reputation as one of the best young defenders in the Premier League. It was natural to assume that he would become Tottenham’s first-choice left-back. That hasn’t proved to be the case so far as Rose has stepped up his game.
Some competition might be just what Walker needs to make similar improvements. In his three seasons as a first-team player, he’s always seemed like an automatic selection, even in his debut campaign. Harry Redknapp consistently preferred Walker to the experienced Vedran Corluka, who might not have been anyone’s idea of a modern attacking full-back but who was nevertheless a good defender.
Over the last two seasons Walker’s back-up was the error-prone Kyle Naughton, who has now left for Swansea. Walker’s place was never under any pressure and he now finds himself with central defender Vlad Chriches as his only real cover.
The club has some young talent at right-back but how soon any one of them can challenge Walker for a place remains to be seen. DeAndre Yedlin is only just establishing himself at U21 level, Ryan Fredericks is on loan at Middlesborough, while namesake Kyle Walker-Peters is still only 17.
With such provisions for the future in place, it’s hard to imagine that another right-back will be bought in the summer, so it will either be Yedlin or Fredericks who challenges – or quite likely, doesn’t really challenge – for a place.
So that leaves Walker to float along without the pressure that could force him to step up his game. There looks like there will be no quick fixes, leaving Poch and his coaching staff to work on improving Walker, or the hope of a youngster making some rapid improvement.
It leaves the question open; can Kyle Walker fulfil his potential?