With his bending free-kicks and set-piece utility, England right back has drawn comparison with Beckham
Kieran Trippier’s World Cup ended in tears. He hobbled off the pitch, assisted by the medical staff, in the dying moments of the England-Croatia semifinal. By then, the realisation had sunk in that the Cup was not going home. About two hours previously, Trippier had filled the England fans with optimism, conviction, in fact, bending a free-kick to the top corner like his idol, David Beckham. The last time when England played in a World Cup final, and won it, Mary Quant’s mini-skirt ‘revolution’ had engulfed the London fashion world. The Beatles released their seventh studio album – Revolver. The last time England were in a World Cup semifinal before Moscow (Italia 90), Checkpoint Charlie still separated the East and West Germany, although the fall of the Berlin Wall had ushered in the ‘wind of change’. Gareth Southgate’s Three Lions buried the ghosts of the past and came very close to rewrite history before suffering the extra-time heartbreak against Croatia.
Trippier’s rise to indispensability during England’s campaign in Russia captured the team’s free spirit. Over the past few weeks, the British newspapers and tabloids offered sharp contrast. The front pages had the country divided over the Brexit. The back pages, on the other hand, rolled out the unison song – Football’s coming home. If Boris Johnson and company presented a picture of the political uncertainty, Trippier and his mates were the embodiment of a collective surge, onwards and upwards.
This was an England team that didn’t carry the excess baggage of stardom. They were the lads, almost the boys next door, with whom the fans could connect. These footballers rose through the ranks, honed their skills at lower divisions, non-league even, before reaching the world stage. It’s not known whether Trippier will be playing the Saturday’s third-place playoff fixture against Belgium. But he will go home with his reputation hugely enhanced as a right wing back – 17 key passes, including assists, and a goal against his name. He was England’s World Cup hero. It has been a meteoric rise for a 27-year-old who came to the national team fold only about 14 months ago, in May 2017.
Manchester City’s Class of 2008 that won the FA Youth Cup, had the likes of Daniel Sturridge, Ben Mee, Dedryck Boyata, along with Trippier, in their ranks. The latter, the boy from Ramsbottom, Bury, was the prankster in the group. During a recent interview with the Manchester Evening News, Steve Eyre, the coach of the triumphant youth team, spoke about how Trippier would “ping 50-yard passes onto the head of a groundsman”, only to practise different ball-skill, when the angry man turned around. The City academy churned out quality graduates even before Sheikh Mansour bought the club and pumped in petro-dollars into the academy set-up.
“The takeover at City changed everything, and in front of him (Trippier) he had a functional Micah Richards and Pablo Zabaleta, who had not reached his potential at that point. Kieran had that impatient ambition which most of the best players had. His pathway was blocked so he went backwards and round the side in order to get to the front,” Eyre said. It was Eyre, who would stay back to monitor Tripper’s extended sessions at the Platt Lane. The youngsters practiced those free-kicks and crosses for hours. Despite being a City trainee, he wanted to hit them like Beckham. He also aspired to be a right back like Gary Neville.
Trippier was almost devastated to leave his childhood club but he showed character to move a rung below to Barnsley on loan followed by a permanent switch to Burnley. In June 2015, he arrived at Tottenham Hotspur. “I got let go at City but I always believed I could play at the top level. It has taken longer than expected. It was just about being patient and working hard on the training pitch,” he told The Times (London) during the World Cup.
Trippier always had the support of his parents, Chris and Eleanor. He got a great mentor in Sean Dyche, one of the finest new generation English coaches, along with Eddie Howe, at Burnley. At Spurs, he got Mauricio Pochettino, who made the White Hart Lane a finishing school for the young English football talents.
Spurs, however, presented a different challenge. With Kyle Walker being the first-choice right back, Trippier had to bide his time for first-team football. For two-and-a-half months in early 2017, he didn’t have any game time in the Premier League. But Walker fell out with Pochettino and made a £50 million move to Manchester City last summer. And the Spurs manager made Trippier his first-choice despite signing Serge Aurier to fill the void.
The healthy rivalry between Trippier and Walker didn’t affect their friendship. The two even shared a tent at the Royal Marine Commanding Training Centre, when Southgate had arranged a boot camp for the England squad in June last year. Gradually, Trippier would become Southgate’s top preference for the right wing-back slot, with Walker playing as a right-sided centre-half in a three-man central defence. Refreshingly, it didn’t create any changing room discord. Rather, the team took kindly to Southgate’s decision to allow Trippier move upfield unfettered. It allowed Trippier to express his attacking intent.
Camaraderie is another reason why this England squad captured the imagination of the fans. They went about their task with humility. Not many moons ago, Paul Scholes had revealed how club rivalries affected England during the era of the ‘golden generation’. Recently, Jamie Carragher confessed in his column how Liverpool’s close season signings became a bigger priority for him, while he was playing a World Cup. The Trippiers, the Walkers, the Stones and the Kanes played for ‘Club England’.
Trippier announced his arrival on the big stage during Spurs’ 3-1 victory over Real Madrid in a Champions League match at Wembley last term. It has been a steady progress since. As for international football, the World Cup was just the beginning. The young guns should carry forward the momentum to the Euros two years hence, and to the 2022 Qatar World Cup. Trippier and his team mates will have enough big-tournament experience by then. At the Luzhniki three days ago, England surrendered the initiative to a more experienced side.
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