Kyle Walker has been Mr Reliable for club and country virtually his entire career, but his transition out of Gareth Southgate’s starting line-up may aid his longevity at Manchester City.
Six months on from Euro 2020 heartbreak against Italy, it’s time for the England manager to go again and assess his squad before the 2022 Qatar World Cup – this time in the winter.
When announcing his selection for this month’s friendlies against Switzerland and the Ivory Coast, Manchester United’s Jadon Sancho and Marcus Rashford were notable omissions, but there was also no room for Walker.
Southgate said: “With Kyle (Walker), I had a chat with him. We felt this was an opportunity to look at the two younger full-backs. We know all there is to know about Kyle, he’ll be back in June.
“He’s an important part of the progress we’ve made as a team, you can see in the big matches for (Manchester) City this season he’s still been an important player for them.”
It is certainly encouraging for Walker to hear he will be back with his national side in June’s round of friendlies, but the admission from Southgate that he wanted to try out some of the younger players in his position may signal the beginning of the end for the right-back in an England shirt.
Of course, both Trent Alexander-Arnold and Reece James have subsequently pulled out of the squad with their own respective injuries, meaning the manager’s idea really hasn’t gone to plan.
Walker has been an ever-present in Southgate’s set-up since his appointment in 2016. Naturally at right-back, but the five-at-the-back system England primarily use in major tournaments has seen him deployed on the right side of the back three – with his lightning recovery pace highlighted as the main reason.
His ability – alongside his leadership – has been vital in his country’s success and it will take a special talent to displace him in the World Cup.
Alexander-Arnold and James are no longer up-and-coming prospects, however. They are both well-established Premier League talents who have won some major prizes at club level.
Southgate clearly sees the pair as the natural replacements for Walker. And despite the disappointment of a fantastic international career slowly coming to an end, it may benefit him in the long run.
The 31-year-old has been a key component of a City side that has picked up three of the last four Premier League titles – becoming one of Pep Guardiola’s finest signings. His importance to the team cannot go unnoticed, and the Catalan will want to harness that ability for as long as possible.
Walker still has a few years left at the very top level, so two-week breaks every few months when international football rolls around would benefit him hugely, and keep him at his optimum level for that little while longer.
The full-back will be hoping, naturally, that his spot in the England starting XI is secure for a little while longer. But if it’s not, it may not be a bad thing for himself or City in the future.
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