Long Reads

Kyle Walker-Peters: The Edmonton Boy with a Dream

On 29 January 2020, Southampton signed 22 year old Kyle Walker-Peters on loan from Tottenham Hotspur, after longtime right back custodian Cedric Soares left for Arsenal, himself on loan, until the end of his contract.

Many were skeptical of the move, as he only had 12 league appearance to his name up to that point. Would he really be the solution to Saints’ right back problem, which has persisted since the sale of Nathaniel Clyne to Liverpool in July 2015?

Fast forward to the start of the 20/21 season, and it is now unthinkable to have our best XI without him on the pitch. He has signed on a permanent deal, and and arguably, he is one of our most important players.

But with all that he’s offered on the pitch, who is Kyle Walker-Peters, the person?

Early Childhood

Born Kyle Leonardus Walker-Peters on the 13th of April in 1997 in Edmonton, London, young Kyle was born into a footballing environment. His father, Dennis, was an avid Chelsea supporter, and his Uncle Phil had played professionally in central midfield for Charlton and Millwall in the 1970’s and early 80’s, and is now a coach who runs the Phil Walker Skills School in London. It was Phil who encouraged Kyle to pursue a career in football,

Kyle grew up as a Spurs fan, despite several of his relatives supporting their city rivals Arsenal, and he joined the club as a schoolboy, after impressing on a trial. He played in his youth as an attacking midfielder. Initially, however, in the words of Phil Walker, “when Kyle started at Tottenham, he wasn’t rated as one of the best players.”

As time went on, Kyle and his family realized they had to make sacrifices if he was ever going to make it as a footballer. This was not going to be a career where he could just go through the motions. While school remained a top priority, as his parents Dennis and Mary insisted, football had to be the focus above all else.

Kyle speaks very well about the “education first” approach his family took.

“When I do my warm-ups I do it properly, I do everything properly, that attention to detail comes from school I think.”

Tottenham Hotspur Academy – “I had to be selfish.”

In his early years, Kyle had to room with a host family, sharing a room with fellow academy teammate Milos Veljkovic, who now plays in Germany with Werder Bremen as a centre-back. His time with Milos helped him to mature as an individual. In his words;

Staying with Milos Veljkovic helped me to be independent. I had to and do my own washing and cooking my own breakfast. Experiences like that really help.

Milos had a good influence on young Kyle’s mentality, as he was a more senior and more experienced player. Kyle watched how Milos carried himself as he advanced in his career, and this taught him a lot about how to make it as a footballer. Milos went on to win the under-19 European Championships and Under-20 World Cup with his country Serbia.

He also taught Kyle about competition. Kyle noticed a different, more ruthless mentality in his foreign teammates.

“The foreign boys are more selfish.”

“They’re friendly, but they don’t come to make friends. Milos was competing against me and other players for a place in the team. You could see he had that mentality. You’ve got to look at people ahead of you and he had that mentality and a lot of the foreign boys do.”

This ruthless streak helped Kyle to step up. As a child he was quiet and calm boy, an influence stemming from his father Dennis. But there was no place for sitting idly by as a footballer. He had to really push himself to the limit, and at 16, with professional contracts and scholarships on the line, it was clear he had to fight for his place, for his opportunity, in the Tottenham Academy setup. His father said as much to him.

“[My Dad] would always say “there’s no friends in football, you can be friendly, but you’ll never have friends.” When I got to 16 I realized I had to be selfish.”

Ugo Ehiogu – “I owe a lot to him.”

With this newfound mentality, he quickly rose through the ranks for both club and country once he finished his basic education. He featured for the England under-18s and 19s, earning plaudits for his performances with both.

One key figure who influenced Kyle was Ugo Ehiogu, who was the coach of Tottenham’s u23s. Under Ehiogu, Kyle played 48 games over 3 seasons in the u23s, the most out of any player Ehiogu managed there.

Sadly, Ehiogu passed away in April 21 2017, after suffering a cardiac arrest in Tottenham’s training center. When asked about Ehiogu during a pitch opening last year, Kyle had this to say.

“Ugo [Ehiougu] had a massive impact on my life and my playing career, and without him I wouldn’t have improved as a player. I owe a lot to him.”

Kyle still keeps Ehiogu as his header in his Twitter profile, underlining his influence on him, both on and off the pitch.

Rise to Stardom -“A dream come true.”

A month after his death, Kyle was called up to the England u-20s World Cup. He played 5 matches, including the final, where England would triumph and win their first World Cup since 1966.

His senior club career kicked off afterwards. Kyle Walker was sold to Manchester City for 50m that summer. Kieran Trippier faced an ongoing groin issue, and Serge Aurier was also suffering from an injury. Kyle had been training with the first team for 18 months, but was he ready to step up?

It was on 13 August 2017 when 20 year old Kyle found himself starting in Tottenham’s lineup in their season opener against Newcastle at St. James’ Park. And while manager Mauricio Pochettino had commented earlier that he wasn’t quite sure Kyle was ready, all that was forgotten as he pulled out a stunning Man of the Match performance, proving a solid defender in the first half and delivering a flurry of crosses in the second, reminiscent of his u20 World Cup performances.

Now the whole country knew the name of Kyle Walker-Peters, not least because of the similarity of his name to the man who left for City that summer, earning him the endearing moniker “the better Kyle Walker”.

Kyle himself was happy, but humble, with his words after the game, another testament to his hard-working yet mild nature.

“To get the Man of the Match is a dream come true. I’ve just got to keep working hard and hopefully get more opportunities like this and try to take them. I’ve still got a long way to go.”

Overall, he played 9 games in all competitions, including the UEFA Champions League, for the first team that season, grabbing a goal in the FA Cup against Rochdale and 2 assists in Tottenham’s final league game against 15/16 champions Leicester City. A fine season for a academy player who has just broken through the ranks.

Limited Opportunities – “I was really disappointed.”

In the following seasons, however, Kyle found regular game time hard to come by, as he picked up 10 appearance in 18/19, and a mere 4 appearances at the start of the 19/20 season. Speaking of this barren spell, Kyle did not mince his words over his disappointment.

“If you get man of the match [against Newcastle], you expect to start the next game, which was against Chelsea. I guess you can say that’s a lot to ask of a young player, but at the time I was really disappointed not to start.

I never understood why I didn’t play much after I got man of the match, but the manager has to make decisions and what he thinks is best.”

Despite this, he still views Pochettino as having a positive influence on his career trajectory, grateful for the chances he has received from him and for giving him his debut.

“Even if I was left out of the squad, I was always made to work hard to improve my fitness, which meant if an opportunity did come, I was always ready. I don’t know if all managers are like that, but I think that shows that he cares.”

A New Start – “I’m just grateful for the opportunity.”

In the January transfer window, Southampton were in the market for a new right-back, with Cedric Soares injured and refusing a new contract and youth player Yan Valery the only option in that area. Despite links with Joakim Maehle and Joe Bryan, it was Kyle Walker-Peters who signed on loan to the South Coast club on the 29th of January.

“I’m just grateful for the opportunity I’ve been given by the manager and the club.”

“I come here looking to help the club improve and improve myself. I just want to win as many games as possible and enjoy playing football.”

“I had a chat with the manager [Ralph Hasenhuttl] and he assured me I was the type of player he liked and I got that feeling from watching Southampton that I could fit in well.”

Clearly, what was on Kyle’s mind was not money or fame, but just the opportunity to prove himself as a footballer through regular playing time.

Manager Ralph Hasenhuttl is famous for his high press system, which is not easy for a player to adapt to, so it took time to get used to the system. He made his debut on the 15th of February, in a 1-2 home defeat. While not as spectacular as his Spurs debut, he proved a competent player in this unfamiliar system. Unfortunately, he picked up a calf injury, missing the squad the next game, and only making the bench the next two games.

As we all know, the global pandemic put football on hold afterwards. This gave Kyle time to recover from his calf injury, and by the time football returned, he was fit enough to come in for a cameo in Southampton’s first game since the break against Norwich. He started his second game for Saints against Watford, and he proved key in the club’s unbeaten league run of 7 games, including a fine display in a memorable 1-0 home win against 18/19 champions Manchester City.

At this point Saints fans were clamoring the club to sign him on a permanent deal, and the club duly followed up the loan deal, signing Kyle Walker-Peters as their first signing of the summer on August 12 2020.

And what of the future?

“I think the way we finished the season gives us real optimism about where we’re heading too, and it just feels like a really good place for me to keep developing as a player and make the best out of what I have.”

Yes, with the Edmonton Boy on the right, we can push on to bigger things this season!

Article by @markssaintsblog