Kyle Walker smiles as he takes a quick rest and enjoys quality time with his young family, just a week before his fourth major tournament as England international.
A late arrival at the Three Lions camp due to his role in the Champions League final has created a window for reflection and refocusing.
The pain of Porto is still fresh in my mind and Walker couldn’t get rid of it that quickly, but more on that later.
Above all, the defender now has the welcome distraction of a European Championship where England is one of the favorites.
Kyle Walker sat down with Sportsmail to discuss everything about England’s hectic summer, the pain of missing out on postage, and the social issues that are currently eating up football
Walker entered the England camp with a slight delay due to the Champions League final.
Far-reaching changes have taken place since the Russia World Cup, but Walker is still an integral part of the Three Lions furniture and, at the age of 31, is the oldest and most experienced player for Gareth Southgate in the 2020 Euro.
As he knows, his role has changed. Walker will be a seasoned mind in a sea of vibrant youth, and he has already started making sure he can be the most effective version of himself.
The time he has spent with Manchester City psychologists has enabled the 31-year-old to develop what is ultimately considered to be the perfect bedside manner. the complex ways and methods of dealing with an individual who happens to be a player in elite sport.
But does he feel an overwhelming responsibility when he plays with the likes of 17-year-old Jude Bellingham or 19-year-old Bukayo Saka by his side?
At 31, Walker is Gareth Southgate’s oldest pick but is showing no signs of slowing down
With people like Jude Bellingham and Bukayo Saka, England is betting on the youth
“I wouldn’t say I feel responsible because they are good players, they can all play football or they don’t wear an England shirt or they represent their country in a big tournament,” said Walker.
“If they need advice, or if we play big games or pressure games, or the last 10 minutes and they look around and look a little lost, I’ll probably be the first to go to them and when I need to.” an arm around her to say, “Come on, we have this” or “We can do this” or “We can loop through the last 10 minutes”.
“Even if I’m on the bench and I need to get it working, you know,“ Go get the winner, go and make history, go and make your country proud ”, if I can, I will to do. ‘
Walker speaks with Sports mail from his holiday home and treat yourself to a small portion of the sea, serenity and the first summer sun in Great Britain.
The momentary silence is nice, but Walker longs for a different background noise; The fans. The full-back spends his career on the flanks and is used to yelling in the ears of fans, for better or for worse.
‘It was hard. We all know soccer with fans, we all know soccer when they sing, when you go to away ground and even when you get a little bit of jip, that’s the point, that’s what we grew up with.
England will play each of their group matches against Croatia, neighbors Scotland and the Czech Republic at Wembley. With the fans slowing down on the site, the prospect of imitating the misty “home tournament” nostalgia of Euro ’96 is tempting.
That return, Walker points out, makes all the difference.
Fans returned at the end of the national and European campaigns, bringing in the much-needed noise that Walker said was sorely missed in the game
“Of course everything had to be done right and the rules had to be followed, that is first and foremost, but letting the fans back in for the last few games and with this tournament just around the corner is something people can look forward to.
“People haven’t been to soccer games in almost 18 months and we probably kept a lot of people sane by going out and playing soccer and they could see it on TV. Now it’s time to get out of your house, go to Wembley and support the boys and make sure we can hear you as always. “
Once the heart and soul of the game is back, an element of normal order in football will be restored. However, some fans are responsible for a rapidly escalating problem on the darker side of the sport: the rise in online abuse, hatred and racial discrimination.
Walker feels passionate about the subject, having recently made public examples of the deluge of hideous news he receives on a regular basis.
Actions are taken and explanations are given, but the England international thinks the gestures are empty and now virtually pointless. After small sections of the Riverside Stadium where the knee was booed in support of racial equality, before England’s warm-up friendlies with Austria and Romania, Walker feels that this attitude is sadly a way of life.
Fans will be back to cheer England on at the Euro, although certain actions have attracted attention
Booing the knee has split opinions, and Walker believes that only education can change that
“I’ve said it before, it will go on no matter what anyone does.
“I have probably only recently started making people aware of the racist abuse I receive on social media platforms. I used to always say, “No, I’ll just leave it” because it doesn’t make a blind difference if I point it out. ‘
Walker’s emotion on the subject is palpable. Like many colored footballers all over the world, he feels the helpless feeling of banging his head against a wall. The key – or rather the only hope, Walker adds – is education and perseverance.
“All we can do with the knee, you know my son, he asked,” Dad, why are you doing this? “And I was really glad he asked me that because now I can teach him what he can.
“We’re trying to get a message out there and he now knows what it’s for, so in my opinion it’s just about educating the younger generation as best you can and saying,” No, it’s not right, everyone is human and that is “the main thing.”
“It doesn’t matter what race, what skin color, what religion, everyone is the same.”
The Manchester City man is likely to land a role on an English back three in the coming weeks. A victim, some might say, of his own athleticism and tactical versatility.
Although Walker told Sportsmail after the World Cup in Russia that he doesn’t believe this is the best-performing role, Walker is excited to serve his country again.
Walker once noted that he didn’t like playing in a back three, but now he insists that the country come first
“I think I came back from the tournament and came back from the Nations League and wasn’t selected, I think it was maybe 16 months or something like that. You are grateful to come back to the team.
“You don’t take it for granted, but after being on a team or a squad between the ages of 20 and 29, nine years of uninterrupted international football when the teams or squads were announced, I would know I was there but then all of a sudden it’s a big shock to the system.
“It hurts when the teams are announced. We’ve been playing good football for a few years now, and we’ve been winning football, so it hurt a lot not to be there. But [it was] Something I had to take on on the chin, of course I had to improve my game, improve what the coach wanted to see and I just told myself that I was going to work really hard. ”
It would be remiss not to review Walker’s current headroom as the club’s grief with City now has to be abruptly put aside in favor of England.
A little more than a week has passed since the Champions League final and the dust has yet to settle. Manager Pep Guardiola is still being accused of being too cute and rethinking the tactical process ahead of the biggest game in domestic football, but Walker takes a more pragmatic view of things.
Though City were favorites at Porto, City looked when Chelsea took a narrow 1-0 win
Walker is ready to face City’s failure to claim a Champions League title under Guardiola
“Listen, people can talk. I’ve seen a few things or my buddies have written to me about tactics, personnel, this and that, ”he says after a long, thoughtful pause.
“It’s a soccer game, it lasts 95 minutes and anything can happen. Of course we wanted the result to go our way, but the coach or whoever he chooses can go and get the result and get the best for the club. If he gets it right, nobody says anything and if he does it wrong – or if they think he is doing it wrong – people question things. “
Porto was a dark spot on an otherwise shiny career résumé, with the final arriving the day after the defender’s 31st birthday. Walker sketches out a quiet evening before the game, spends time with City roommates John Stones and Phil Foden, battling nerves and focusing on getting a good night’s sleep.
The result, he admits, meant that the birthday celebrations were simply “thrown away” this year – although they could be rekindled should England do something special at the European Championship.
Kai Havertz’s goal made the difference in Portugal when a toothless city team missed the bite of a defensive midfielder and lost Talisman Kevin De Bruyne injured.
“I think it’s a little unfair sometimes when Manchester City don’t win, it’s the tactics or maybe the players on the pitch, but we had to do more and it’s that simple,” added Walker.
“I don’t think we created enough in the game and I don’t think I’m out of line with that. I think anyone can say it on the pitch.”
It’s football’s worst-kept secret that Guardiola’s men are overdue for a European slant, but Walker is all too ready to face it and accept reality.
“I think with the squad we have, with the coach we have, with the club we play for, we should go and win the Champions League, we all know that. We all know that at least since I’ve been there, the players have had an obligation to get it.
Thinking Chelsea and Tuchel deserve a lot of credit, Walker admits City hasn’t done enough
“Yeah, OK, we can win the Premier League and I think we’ll be lucky enough to win three in four years, but we need a Champions League as a club because I hear a lot of people say that it is probably one of the greatest . ” Premier League teams of all time.
“Okay, yes, that’s great, fantastic for me to play on a team like that at all, but to be ranked as one of the best teams of all time I think you need the Champions League and that’s something we miss . “
After such a strong end to the season, a flood of goals at Everton on the last weekend of the season would have been better equipped for the European finals, suggests Walker. He of course accepts that this is just not the way football is going.
Now Walker is thinking of emulating rivals Liverpool, whose hopes were dashed on the final leg in Kiev in 2018, before returning to win it next year.
“I even look back at the game against Everton and say,“ I don’t even want us to score five goals, just give me one! Score one goal in this game and save the goals for the Champions League final, ‘but it’s football and Chelsea are a very good team.
‘[They are] very well organized and I’ve already said that the manager has done incredibly well in a short amount of time to get them to a final, to get them to where they have been compared to where they were last December or January. You have to take off your hat for what he has achieved and what the association has achieved.
City ended the season with a 5-0 win over Everton, although Walker admits he wishes some of the goals for the Champions League final could have been saved
“A lot of teams were in a final like Liverpool; They got to the final and lost it to Real Madrid, came back the next year and won it. Hopefully we can really replicate that. ‘
A grand European final that leads straight to a showcase international tournament confirms what most people already know about Walker – he’s still at the top of his game.
Despite the prospect of feeling like a parenting figure at the England camp in the coming weeks, Walker doesn’t see his football career – or his tenure in England – coming to an end anytime soon.
He’s keen to point out a 20 mile morning bike ride that he just finished and doesn’t seem to have broken a bead of sweat. After all, it pays to be the consummate professional over a long career.
“I’m 31 years old now so time won’t stop playing more tournaments but seriously, I feel so fit, I feel so strong, I don’t feel 31, I still feel 26 I try to stay as dumb as I can, walking around the locker room and mingling with the younger guys to keep my wits young.
Walker will play alongside Kieran Trippier and Jordan Pickford as part of Bud Light’s #boxheads campaign during the European Championships
“My career is coming to an end, which is sad for me, but I don’t think it’s going to end anytime soon because I still feel great and strong and I’m definitely still the fastest in City, so I’m” me told them that as soon as I stop being, then I start thinking about things. ‘
However, would he consider following the example of James Milner and Jamie Vardy before him and extending his international career to extend activities nationally? A twinkle in the eye before answering the question already confirms what is coming.
“I don’t think I’m retiring for England because I never want to retire for my country. If I’m available and the coach thinks I’m good enough to play then that’s perfectly fine, but as for resigning, I don’t think that will ever come into the situation.
“It’ll just be like,” OK Kyle, you’re old, we don’t need you anymore, but thanks for your service. “
As the official beer of the English men’s team, Bud Light created #BOXHEADS, which features the oversized faces of Pickford, Walker and Trippier. Bud Light BOXHEADS: beer to drink, box to carry. Now available nationwide in stores and online.