Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 28 October 2020

Red card could prove to be Kyle Walker's final contribution to England

Right-back takes the blame for his sending off in Iceland but it will not help his cause with unsympathetic Southgate

The post-match interview can be a formulaic affair. It invariably involves someone who has excelled or won or, at the least, not let the side down.

There was an exception in Iceland on Saturday. Normally players who have been sent off avoid the cameras. Kyle Walker faced them and delivered a brutally honest mea culpa.

“The first yellow is a yellow and the second yellow is a yellow,” he said. “That is as simple as it is. I am not blaming anyone else. It is my fault. It is a red card and I deserved to walk.”

Usually it falls to the press or the public to suggest a footballer’s international career is over. This time, Walker planted the idea in everyone else’s head by suggesting that might be that: 49 caps and out.

From a human perspective, it was hard not to feel for someone so clearly devastated. From a footballing view, it amounted to justice being done. The sending off was described by Gareth Southgate as “absolutely fair.” Walker’s second booking, for a ludicrous lunge on Arnor Ingvi Traustason some 70 yards from England’s goal, was utterly unnecessary. Ultimately, it did not deny the team victory but it could come at a considerable personal cost.

The questions about Walker’s decision-making had been amplified by his lockdown breaches. His recall, after a year when Southgate had excluded him from the England squad, was perhaps unexpected, despite his fine form for Manchester City last season.

England used to be so short of quality right-backs that Glen Johnson was the lone specialist who went to the 2010 and 2014 World Cups. Now they have four compelling options, and Reece James could soon make it a fifth.

Aaron Wan-Bissaka may be the best out-and-out defender of all but he was not even called up. Kieran Trippier played left-back. Trent Alexander-Arnold might be the world’s best right-back but Southgate sometimes appears a rare doubter about the Liverpool phenomenon, even though his crossing and set-piece skills make him the best fit for England’s 4-3-3 formation. Walker may have been too anxious to impress, but he ended up sounding depressed.

Kyle Walker leaves the field after getting a red card for England during the Uefa Nations League match against Iceland. AP Photo
Kyle Walker leaves the field after getting a red card for England during the Uefa Nations League match against Iceland. AP Photo

His demotion last year was a further indication that Southgate’s politeness can camouflage his ruthlessness. Senior players can testify to it. Wayne Rooney, Joe Hart and Chris Smalling were early casualties. Ashley Young was dropped after being pivotal in a run to the World Cup semi-finals. Dele Alli now finds himself on the outside, looking in.

Walker was initially omitted 12 months ago. It probably reflected his fortunes in England’s only semi-finals since 1996: he lost Ivan Perisic when Croatia equalised in the World Cup and, if there was an element of bad luck in his Nations League own goal against Holland, his was still an error-riddled display.

Southgate has spent a quarter of a century examining England’s inability to win honours. He has been player and pundit, Under-21 and first-team manager. He has addressed one issue he has traumatic experience of – missing penalties – but another recurring theme in his rhetoric is the importance of discipline. As a player, he had a solitary, very unfortunate, red card in 695 games.

He came off the bench to play his part in England’s rearguard action against Argentina in 1998. They were down to 10 men before his introduction, courtesy of David Beckham’s expulsion. It was, it transpired, his final World Cup game as a player and it remains tempting to wonder if Glenn Hoddle’s team could have won that tournament.

As Southgate said, Walker’s sending off was the first of his reign. With Southgate sounding unsympathetic, no wonder Walker worries if it will be his last contribution in it.

Updated: September 6, 2020 01:41 PM

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