REPINO, Russia (Reuters) - England’s Kyle Walker says he wouldn’t have been able to switch to his new central defensive role for the national team had it not been for the influence of his Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola.
Walker has built his career at club and international level as an attacking right-back but England manager Gareth Southgate has recently switched him to a right-central defensive role as part of this three-man defence.
The Yorkshireman says he relishes attacking down the flanks but has accepted that he will have a different job at the World Cup with his former Tottenham understudy Kieran Trippier likely to start at the right wing-back role.
But he credits his new versatility to the lessons he has learnt under Guardiola during City’s title-winning campaign in the Premier League.
“Two years ago I probably couldn’t have played it but the experience I’ve had – especially this year with Pep in understanding the game, learning the game, I think that I have benefited – especially for England now,” he told Reuters before heading out to Russia this week.
“He has taught me so much about managing the game and knowing the players around you really,” he said.
At City, normally plays in an attacking right-back role but there are times during games when he slots into a more central defensive role or even tucks into a holding midfield position.
“I think it is good to have it in your toolbox to play different roles,” he said.
Guardiola’s attitude is that good players should be comfortable in various roles on the field and Walker is encouraged by the versatility in the England squad.
The likes of Dele Alli, Raheem Sterling and Jesse Lingard can all play different attacking roles while Walker’s City team-mate Fabian Delph has been converted from midfielder to wing-back by Guardiola.
That means England’s line-up might not be so easy to interpret for opposition coaches and players, says Walker.
“It has to be a positive because they can’t really pick the team sheet. You look at some of the teams in the World Cup and you get the team sheet before the game and you go they are playing here, they are playing there. But we are versatile and I think that is going to help us in the tournament because people can’t really say – they are going to play there,” he said.
Walker has made no secret that he would prefer to be playing in his normal role but says he accepts that Southgate feels he has greater balance with his pace used in the centre of defence.
“I am a right-back first and foremost. I like getting forward, everyone knows that, I love to put my winger back there but we have got two fantastic right-backs in this squad with Trips and Trent (Alexander-Arnold), who has had a fantastic back end to the season, so if the manager believes that is my best position, I am willing to do anything for the country to hopefully get us to where we want to be,” he said.
Reporting by Simon Evans; Editing by Amlan Chakraborty