England are in action again, which means the debate that has gripped the nation returns once again. No, not whether Michael Owen will finally implode under the pressure of his daughter’s Love Island fame, but who should start at right-back under Gareth Southgate.
But there’s only one man for the job. Kyle Walker. Not only England’s best option but the best right-back the Premier League has ever seen.
Let’s deal with the current England contenders first, before looking back in time. Trent Alexander-Arnold is a unique problem on the international stage. He’s phenomenal for his club, arguably the finest full-back in the Premier League, but he is allowed to play an almost free role from that wide position under Jurgen Klopp. That’s something that will be functional at an international tournament, and in key times, he has slipped up defensively.
He lost Vinicius Jr in the Champions League final, he was beaten in the semi-final in the air against Villarreal and he hasn’t produced at wing-back in the same way for England. It’s a relationship that doesn’t seem to be a fruitful one at this present moment in time, but the future could open up a pathway.
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He also only has one Premier League title to his name, Kyle Walker now has four. One’s still at the start of his career, one is coming to the end. He may well become the greatest, but he isn’t there yet.
So if Walker is ahead of Alexander-Arnold, Kieran Trippier and Reece James in the pecking order for England, where does he rank amongst the best right-backs in Premier League history?
Gary Neville is by far the most successful with an untouchable eight league titles to his name, but even by his own admission, he wasn’t the best individual player. He was a great leader and squeezed every last drop out of his potential, but Manchester United would have probably won the same amount of titles without him.
Lee Dixon is an often overlooked name in the running, and having won four titles with an iconic Arsenal back four, he goes down as an all-time great, but full-backs were a different breed back then. If you needed someone to track a runner, nullify a winger and clatter into a forward, Dixon was your man, but he didn’t have the same attacking qualities the modern game requires.
Lauren was an Invincible, Pablo Zabaleta helped win City their first league title and Micah Richards ‘burst onto the scene’. Branislav Ivanovic was a threat in both boxes for Chelsea and Cesar Azpilicuta has been a wonderful captain as part of the Blues’ modern success and showed immense longevity. Right-back is certainly the weakest spot in the all-time Premier League XI, but Walker’s the best of the bunch.
The thing he has over all his competitors is his importance to his team. He is so influential for both club and country and it's hard to imagine a recent Manchester City title win without him. He’s the driving force from the right, the man who has so often bailed out the centre-backs and his ability on the ball is often underrated.
It’s his pace which is so crucial to those recovery runs and combined with his experience it is why he will be starting at the World Cup. His work as a centre-back in a three should also not go unnoticed and it's why he is so crucial for Southgate’s plans.
For somebody who is so reliant on those impressive physical attributes, he has come on leaps and bounds as a footballer under Pep Guardiola. His understanding of the game and positional awareness have drastically improved under the Spanish manager and now he has asserted himself as one of the Premier League greats.
Four titles to his name, for a player that played for Tottenham Hotspur until he was 27, is remarkable. Walker is the perfect mix of the old school and the new school, can read the game as well as anybody and has pace to burn. There’s not been a right-back better than him in Premier League history.