MAIN INTERVIEW, MATCHDAY PROGRAMME v RUBIN KAZAN, OCTOBER 20
Kyle Walker is a firm believer that the best form of defence is attack – and our surging full-back proved as much against Arsenal! We spoke to the Sheffield-born defender to find out just what it feels like to score the winner in a north London derby.
By Jon Rayner
His name doesn’t appear too often on the scoresheet, but when Kyle Walker finds the target, it tends to be a goal that you don’t forget in a hurry!
Anyone who witnessed his stunning strike to win the north London derby in our last game here will certainly testify to that, but our 21-year-old right-back is no stranger to the spectacular.
That fantastic effort which ensured a 2-1 victory over Arsenal, letting fly from 25-yards with a swirling shot that deceived Gunners keeper Wojciech Szczesny, was the third goal of his fledgling career – and all of them have come from long-range.
Kyle twice scored from distance while on loan at Aston Villa last season, the first coming on his debut against former club Sheffield United in a third round FA Cup tie, while he also smashed one home in a 2-2 draw against Fulham. So when Luka Modric’s shot was blocked against Arsenal and the ball ran loose midway inside our opponents half, Kyle admits there was only one thing he was going to do when he picked up possession.
“The ball fell to me and the only thing on my mind was to have a shot,” he said. “I knocked it a little wide but then just put my foot through the ball and it was fantastic to see it go in. I had a similar situation against Fulham with Villa last season. The ball came to me, I took a touch past Steve Sidwell and I just hit it.
“If you don’t shoot, you won’t score. Against Arsenal, it could have gone in the top corner, deflected past the keeper and gone in or it could have sailed out for a corner! But luckily for me, it went in.”
It was a goal worthy of winning any game, never mind a high-octane north London derby, and Kyle revealed he certainly felt a wave of emotion after scoring – and a very different one to that he felt when netting his first-ever goal against his boyhood club Sheffield United.
“I don’t think I’ll ever score a weirder one than the one I got against United. I’d never scored in my life, playing in my first game for Aston Villa against the team I supported as a kid and then I smash in a goal…you couldn’t make it up! It was surreal and left me with a very strange feeling inside.
“But the goal against Arsenal was a totally different feeling. I was buzzing afterwards, for the team and the fans as much as anything because I know how much that victory meant to them. Sometimes you don’t hear the supporters, you tend to block things out because you’re concentrating, but I certainly heard our fans after that goal went in!”
And what of the celebration, as he ran towards the East Stand and started blowing kisses into the crowd?
“They were for my mum Tracey,” he revealed. “She doesn’t often come to my games because she gets nervous, so it was great for her to see me score a goal like that. My dad Michael is there at every match, but mum only comes occasionally. That was the first derby she’d ever been to and when I spoke to her afterwards…she was very emotional but in a good way, she was happy we won and delighted to see me score, so it was a great day all round for me to be honest.”
It was certainly a great day for everyone connected with the Club as we registered our fourth straight Barclays Premier League win by defeating the Gunners yet again. Kyle believes it was an important success to further highlight the progress we are making and the confidence currently surging through the squad.
“We’ve got some good momentum going now and that result really helped. That made it four wins on the trot and the draw at Newcastle was another good point overall, even if we were disappointed not to win having been in front late on.
“But it’s all positives at the moment and we are looking forward to every game. It was always going to be difficult against the two Manchester teams first up. We’ve got the players in the dressing room who are good enough to win those games and I certainly wouldn’t mind playing those two matches again now. But we bounced back and have done well since. We’d lost our opening two games, conceding eight goals in the process, so it could easily have gone the other way. But we reacted well and are heading in the right direction now.”
Still only 21, Kyle is already closing in on 100 senior appearances, a figure he should comfortably pass over the next few months should he remain injury free. He enjoyed featuring in 28 games in 2009-10 with the Blades and notched up a further 38 appearances during loan spells with QPR and Aston Villa, before returning to the Lane for the start of this season. And Kyle admits it was his time at Villa Park which really helped his game and enabled him to feel good about himself again, after some negative vibes had started to take hold.
“My time at Villa was really important for me,” he said. “Maybe people thought I was a bit of a risk before I went there but I was very grateful that Gerard Houllier took that risk. I made a few mistakes early on but he stuck by me and was very supportive, as were all the lads up there and that really helped.
“I think I did ok there. The doubts that people had about me were starting to make me doubt myself but my time at Villa enabled me to put those doubts to the back of my head, made me realise I could do it and allowed me to develop as a player and a person.
“Just being able to get game time in the Premier League is so invaluable to a young player. You learn so much from playing in these games, having the likes of Nani and Ashley Young running at you week in, week out. It’s impossible not to learn from facing those sort of players.
“As a defender at 21, I think there is always something you can learn from a game. I’m really hard on myself and always think I can improve my game. If I do make a mistake in a match, I won’t let it happen again. I’ll come in the next day and sit down with Kevin Bond and the video analysis guys and watch it again, 20 times if I have to, to make sure I know what I did wrong and how not to do it again.”
Tonight, we take a break from Premier League action to continue our assault on the Europa League, with Russian outfit Rubin Kazan visiting the Lane. Kyle is enjoying his first taste of European action with us this term, featuring in our games against Hearts (away), PAOK and Shamrock Rovers so far and he is relishing the opportunity to further his education with another Euro match under his belt this evening.“
I think it’s great to be involved in the competition and personally, any time I get on the pitch will only help me,” he said. “It’s definitely a learning experience playing against different opponents and styles, it gives you a bit of variety from the familiarity of the Premier League. These matches are a different type of challenge.
“Also it’s been a very useful competition for some of our younger players who have benefitted from playing in it, the likes of Andros Townsend, Tom Carroll and Harry Kane.
“I’ve been with Andros in a couple of England youth squads, he’s got great pace and sometimes you don’t want to play against him because he can go past you and leave you standing; Tom is very good on the ball, has great passing ability and rarely wastes a pass, while Harry is a proper striker who knows where the goal is. I’ve seen it in training, he’s a quality finisher. They’ve all done well in the games they’ve played and it can only help them and the club in the long run.”
And while it is a long and winding road to be crowned Europa League champions in this current format, Kyle insists it’s a competition we are determined to take seriously.
“This is a prestigious trophy with silverware to be won at the end of it all. This club has a great tradition in Europe down the years and as a team, we want to add our names to those former Spurs greats who have won European trophies before us.
“I’d love to have a Europa League winner’s medal to show off at the end of this season, the game is all about glory.”