REPINO, Russia (Reuters) - When Gareth Southgate’s England World Cup squad was announced, plenty of observers wondered how the team would be able to compensate for the absence of a genuine creative midfielder.
Who would create the chances for the talented collection of forward players, in particular centre-forward Harry Kane?
The answer in Russia has proven to be, for some, an unlikely one: right-back Kieran Trippier.
Indeed not only has the Spurs wide-man provided a much-needed solution for England, he has also been one of the tournament’s top performers.
According to statistics by Opta, the top three creators of chances in this tournament are Brazil’s Neymar, Belgium’s Kevin De Bruyne and Trippier.
“Somebody mentioned that to me – not bad for a Bury lad!” laughed Trippier, referencing his hometown, near Manchester.
“The (England) formation is perfect for me. I can get forward as much as I can and try to get the crosses in and help my team as much as I can. If I manage to help them I am delighted,” he said.
Trippier has always been a very attack-minded full-back, right from his days in Manchester City’s youth team, to his time with Burnley under Sean Dyche, and then under Mauricio Pochettino at Tottenham.
But in Southgate’s system, with three central defenders including right-sided Kyle Walker to offer cover, Trippier is so advanced he spends a large part of the game operating basically as a right-winger.
“It is a little bit different to the way I play for Tottenham. If one wing-back is higher, the other one tucks back just to make it four at the back.
“Tactically it is different, but Gareth tries to encourage me to go forward as much as I can, to create as much as I possibly can. He is a really positive manager, I can’t speak highly enough of him,” he said.
The housing estate where Trippier’s family live is well-known for the 20-foot flagpole with a St George’s flag emblazoned with the full-back’s name that the player’s father Chris put in his garden.
There is also a giant television where family and friends have been able to watch the games from Russia, including Tuesday’s win over Colombia, which featured Trippier scoring in the shoot-out.
“They were all in the garden watching it. I’ve seen the videos of them going crazy when (Eric) Dier scored the winning penalty. They’re delighted and very proud and can’t wait to get out here,” he said.
“My neighbours actually came round - quite a lot of them! They were watching over the hedges. Quite a few, my Dad was surprised people were walking past on the estate and watching it, then walking off. Just enjoying it. That’s the estate we’re on,” he said.
Trippier’s family will be in Samara for the quarter-final against Sweden.
“My family will come out for that. We’ll have people watching out for the house and maybe keep the telly on for people to watch,” he joked.
As well as his tireless running down the flanks, speed and directness, Trippier’s main quality is his ball-striking, both from set-pieces and crosses from wide areas.
It is an element of his game he worked on hard as a young player with then Manchester City youth team coach Steve Eyre.
“When I was at City, at Platt Lane, in the youth team, near enough every day after training, we just used to stay out and practice and practice. There are a lot of people I need to thank for my journey to get here and he’s, for sure, one of them.”
Trippier also studied the delivery techniques of some of the finest in the game.
“I used to watch (David) Beckham and (Andrea) Pirlo, players like that, over their careers.
“Beckham was the one I always looked up to - the technique, his crossing, on the move or set pieces. He’s the one I used to look up to on crossing the ball for sure,” he said.
The 27-year-old has never met Beckham, but it is hard to imagine that remaining the case for long should he head home from Russia as a World Cup hero.
Reporting by Simon Evans; Editing by Hugh Lawson