England squad train ahead of Italy Euro 2024 qualifier
Kyle Walker sees this replay of the Euro 2020 final against Italy as “payback time”. The bigger picture tells him it is paying it forward that has finally put England on the verge of achieving the sustained success that has been sought for so long. The senior citizen is old enough to have been part of the Golden Generation but he is only now finally comfortable admitting at the same time he used to hate it.
“I got my call-up when I was at Aston Villa in February 2011,” Walker recalled. “I’d been at Tottenham for six months, didn’t know anyone there. I went to Aston Villa and the only person that I kind of really knew was Jack Wilshere.
“I had team-mates from Tottenham that were at the table across from me, I was at their team but they didn’t know me because I’d gone on loan to Sheffield United, QPR and Aston Villa. I didn’t feel like I deserved to be there at the time, I was young, I’d just come on the scene at the Premier League at the time, I’d got into the England team and I probably ostracised myself rather than them not talking to me.
“There were big characters there, it was tough to try to spark a conversation with the likes of Rio Ferdnand, John Terry. Now I’d just go up to them and say hello but at the time you had to feel you earned that right.
“So I would hate for any of the younger ones to come up and feel they couldn’t speak to any of the experienced ones. I know there’s no hierarchy. There’s no ‘he’s above me’ or ‘he needs to get on the treatment bed first’. It’s first come, first served. That’s how it is.
“There is an environment and me being the oldest I try to put that on to anyone. If I was to see it [hierarchy], I wouldn’t have it because you want to feel that it’s an honour already to play for your country and you want to enjoy it, you don’t want to come here and feel like it is a chore.”
It is why players like the injured Bukayo Saka and Jude Bellingham have been allowed to thrive and at the same time, Gareth Southgate has taken it upon himself to talk Walker out of retirement. Twice. “I was 19 with Fabio Capello when I joined,” Walker explained. “It’s a lot of summers, it’s a lot of time away from the children, it’s a lot of time away from home. And I’m not getting any younger.
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“But I did speak with the manager and he wanted me to be a part of this team and more importantly I wanted to be a part of it. It’s a special group of lads. I’ve been here when it was tough to come to England.
“Obviously to represent your country is always going to be an honour but those days when you’re in the hotels and no-one talks to you, it was hard. So to come here and to share the moments that we have done with these players.
“Even though we have fallen short, it’s been enjoyable and hopefully we can go on tomorrow night and get the point at least that we need and hopefully the win and hopefully we can go that one step further next time.”
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