‘Kyle Walker, we want you to stay’ was a muted chant heard throughout pockets of fans at White Hart Lane’s final outing last Sunday. On the touchline as he warmed up from the substitute’s bench, he did not passionately belt but tapped the crest and looked up in awe at the fans. It felt a little like a farewell.
If that were to be Harry Kane, the whole ground would be chanting in unison. Kane, for instance, symbolises something much larger than his obvious quality and if Tottenham were to lose him, they would be losing a smidgeon of their heart. As Daniel Levy pronounced on Sunday, he and everybody else currently occupying the jobs at Tottenham are mere ‘custodians’ of the club, but Kane, Pochettino, even Levy himself, represent this era. Walker, on the other hand, is just another cog in the machine. As blunt as it may sound, the right back is important, but he’s not imperative to Tottenham’s progress. That responsibility lies at the feet of Harry Kane, Harry Winks and even Dele Alli, who is showing increasing signs of loyalty to Tottenham’s vision. Walker, who has had to endure some miserable times at club, seems less connected. He’s professional, but has never wavered from his loyalty to Sheffield United and northern England.
Things have turned a little nasty over past weeks. Walker the indispensable and most talented right back in the Premier League is now being termed greedy and a troublemaker in Tottenham’s happy camp. Rumours, and they remain rumours, that the ex-Sheffield United man has gotten on the wrong side of Pochettino has meant that fans, who will always side with their beloved coach, have temporarily turned on Walker. Nabil Bentaleb and Andros Townsend suffered similar fates. Fuelled by frustration, annoyance and paranoia, the relationship feels like a teenage one. Once he took to Twitter and Instagram to post his own, personalised tribute to White Hart Lane, fans switched back to loving, pleading their man to stay. If he were to leave, and if it were to be on healthy terms, he would be looked back upon fondly.
But with Pochettino placing so much importance on dependence and devotion and with Levy continually thinking with the club’s finances in mind, Kyle Walker’s exit seems inevitable. His performances have declined, not dramatically, but sufficiently to warrant accusations that perhaps his head is in the wrong place. The timing of that is obscure, particularly as Spurs were beginning to mount a genuine title challenge, but needs must. Spurs shouldn’t be the club to block players leaving. They, and specifically Pochettino, need players and staff that they can trust to get them through the next year at Wembley and neatly transition into the new stadium.
Spare a thought for Kieran Trippier. Bought originally to quicken Walker’s progress, Trippier has played second fiddle. His form and professional not only during Walker’s absence but throughout his Spurs career has been exemplary and there has been no real reason for him to be dropped. If anything, he is the current first choice. Harry Kane is always quick to speak out and cry that Tottenham is the place to be at the moment, but if any players needs to seek pastures new, they should be permitted that opportunity.
Walker has been the best right back in the Premier League over two seasons. His progression is testament to himself and Mauricio Pochettino. Once known for his fatal errors and clumsiness, he is now defensively stable, a creator of goals and a perfect fit for Tottenham’s 3-4-2-1. He has been a truly fantastic player for the club. Tottenham would rather keep him as a product of Pochettino, a player fully integrated into the Spurs way of thinking, but that does not make him irreplaceable. There have been murmurs of Dani Alves, but the crux of this Spurs side are lower profile signings educated Pochettino’s way. There will always be a replacement.
Delving into transfer speculation is, in itself, speculative, but transfers carry a heavier load this summer for Tottenham. When it is becoming increasingly important to keep the club as one, it is greeted with great fear and obsession once a player is linked with a switch, especially if it is to a side who don’t immediately seem like an upward step e.g. to Manchester City as is the case with Kyle Walker. While Tottenham are currently a very unique and exciting ‘project’, a move to Manchester City represents an opportunity for stability, and in truth, silverware. Guardiola could have his own, intriguing ideas for England’s right back.
I fear Tottenham will be plagued by this type of story until they really achieve. Had they been playing in an FA Cup Final or had they pushed Chelsea to the final day, the Walker stories were inevitable. While performances on the pitch and the progressions off it are headed into unknown territory, they’ll maintain their reputation amongst the elite clubs as a pocket to pick from. Until they really reach a peak, they’re in no position to hold players against their will.