“What…?! Kyle Walker is evolving… Kyle Walker evolved into Kyle Walker-Peters!” From that Pokémon joke to the Spiderman—meets-Spiderman meme, everyone had something to say about the fact that Tottenham were able to slot Kyle Walker-Peters in at right-back against Newcastle last Sunday, just weeks after his near-namesake had departed for Manchester City.
It was quite incredible and comparisons were quickly made between the two players, but just how similar are they? Is Kyle Walker-Peters really the new Kyle Walker?
While Kyle Walker grew up in Yorkshire and progressed through the Sheffield United academy, the Edmonton-born Walker-Peters has been a lifelong Spurs fan and has never played for another team – even if he was very close to joining Dutch side Roda JC on loan last January. Instead, he stayed in London and he was gradually integrated into Mauricio Pochettino’s senior squad over the course of the 2016/17 season, training with first-team and even making the bench for a Premier League game against Bournemouth and the visits of Aston Villa and Wycombe in the FA Cup.
By staying in London, rather than making the move to Holland or to a lower division English side – Wigan and others were believed to be interested – Walker-Peters was able to absorb Pochettino’s philosophy and has the raw full-back has been moulded by the Argentine’s tactical cookie-cutter in a way that his predecessor never was. When the former Southampton boss arrived at White Hart Lane in 2014, Walker was turning 24 the next day, not exactly an old dog unable to learn new tricks, but certainly not the fresh canvas that Walker-Peters is.
Assuming they both remain at the club for many more years, Pochettino should be able to further develop Walker-Peters into exactly the kind of full-back he wants, needs and loves. Pochettino is also the perfect coach for keeping Walker-Peters grounded, as the Argentine won’t let the young star get carried away after his Man of the Match performance against Newcastle – even if that award was slightly generous, given how Christian Atsu caused him several early problems. The Argentine had even insisted last week that he would not start the young full-back against Newcastle, later admitting he’d only said that to take the pressure off his shoulders.
“I was very pleased with him,” the coach then told the media after the opening weekend match. The Argentine also praised his player’s “great maturity” and revealed that he’d given a speech to his teammates in the dressing room after the full-time whistle. Bit by bit, this player – who started the team’s summer tour of the US a little shy and who was told by now-City-player Walker to communicate more – is coming out of his shell. While Kieran Trippier will retake starting right-back duties once recovered from his injury, Walker-Peters is set to be given several opportunities over the course of the season as the team’s backup right-back and he will surely start expressing himself more and more on the pitch.
Against Newcastle, he was understandably cautious going forward, but he has shown at youth level that he isn’t afraid to drive towards the opposition penalty area. In terms of his style of play, Walker-Peters boasts similar pace to Walker and he can pass just as well, while the man who started his career as an attacking midfielder’s ability to thread the ball through the eye of a needly defence was evident earlier this summer during England’s success at the Under-20 World Cup in South Korea.
Also on display as the 20-year-old started in five matches for Paul Simpson’s youngsters was his versatility, as Walker-Peters played at left-back during that tournament, with Everton’s Jonjoe Kenny having made the right side of the back line his own. He was often the most composed player on the pitch and showed how comfortable he is playing short to medium passes with his left foot, even if he did always cut inside to cross with his stronger right foot.
Given his impressive summer in South Korea, which was followed up by three run-outs during Tottenham’s US tour, and given his showing at St James’ Park, the future looks as bright for Walker-Peters as the yellow Man of the Match gong he now possesses. Having renewed his love for Tottenham by signing a contract extension to 2019 last Valentine’s Day, he is set to remain at his boyhood club for many more years. He’s not quite Kyle Walker, but he’ll soon be making a name for himself.