Gareth Southgate has revealed he twice had to convince Kyle Walker not to retire from international football.
Walker, who scored his first goal for the national team in Saturday’s 1-1 draw against Ukraine, has established himself as a key player for England during Southgate’s seven-year reign.
He played an integral role, alongside Harry Maguire and John Stones, as one of England’s three starting centre backs at the World Cup in 2018 before largely reverting back to his favoured right-back position for Euro 2020 and last year’s World Cup.
The Manchester City star, who has picked up 77 caps since making his debut in 2011, is widely recognised as one of the best players in his position in world football.
However, Southgate has disclosed that England came close to losing Walker’s services on more than one occasion.
Gareth Southgate (right) has revealed he twice had to convince Kyle Walker (left) not to retire
‘I’ve talked him out of retirement from international football twice,’ said the England manager. ‘After the Euros (in 2020) and after the World Cup (last year). I think he loves being here and he’s wanted to keep going and now he’s thinking about how many caps can he get.
‘He’s critical to us. If we’re talking about world class players in their position in our team then he’s probably one of them.
‘He didn’t realise how much value we have for him and how important he is for us.’
Following the 2018 World Cup there were significant doubts over Walker’s international future and he was dropped from the England squad in August 2019. The emergence of Trent Alexander-Arnold at Liverpool and Chelsea’s Reece James, as well as the consistent performances of Kieran Trippier, placed further uncertainty over Walker’s England prospects.
‘Obviously, at the time that me and Gareth spoke, the likes of Trent, Tripps, Reece James were coming through — you do think your days are numbered,’ Walker admitted. ‘And to sacrifice how many holidays and summers that I’ve sacrificed… I’ve been doing this since I was 19 when I joined the senior team. I’m 33 now.
‘Me and Gareth have a good relationship off the field. We do speak and I feel that I can still bring something to the team. So why stop?’
Southgate certainly sees it that way, too. The England boss added: ‘He has (got better with age). It doesn’t always happen. It’s not only playing but also around training, the way I hear him speak when he’s interviewed, his influence on the group, he’s become a really mature leader for us.
‘His all-round game — he has great composure in a position where you don’t always find it. Our senior players were important and he was the pick against Ukraine.
The Manchester City star has picked up 77 caps since making his debut back in 2011
‘He’s got huge experience of winning big matches. I pulled him aside two or three days into the training this week because his focus was really clear, the way he was organising on the pitch. He’s enjoying the extra responsibility he’s had at his club and I know he’s ready to embrace that with us as well.’
Walker’s international team-mate Jordan Pickford believes the right back is the best player in his position. Asked whether Walker is underappreciated, the Everton goalkeeper’s response was emphatic, saying: ‘They should (appreciate him). He is the best right back in the world.
‘His pace against Mykhailo Mudryk (versus Ukraine), who is absolutely rapid; games against Kylian Mbappe — his defensive play as well. He’s experienced now and he’s been at City winning the titles he’s won and everything he’s done in his career. He helps us as players.’