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Monday, June 24, 2024

The historic achievement motivating Kyle Walker at Manchester City

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Football

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The cliché is that footballers take each game as it comes. Kyle Walker isn’t, even though his next match could see him join the club of FA Cup-winning captains. Instead, a man with his eye on history is also already targeting a far greater achievement. “Why can’t we do five in a row?” asked the Manchester City skipper.

No one had won four consecutive English league titles until Pep Guardiola’s team beat West Ham last week. Now another unique feat beckons: there have been some 13 previous doubles of the top-flight crown and the FA Cup, but none in successive seasons. Walker has been part of two double-winning teams in 2018-19 and 2022-23, but he is fuelled by the chance to do something no previous side had ever accomplished.

“The motivation speaks for itself,” he said. “To be the first team to do the double-double, the first team to win four in a row, the first team since Manchester United to do the treble; we keep knocking down these hurdles and this is another that we need to knock down. But it’s against our rivals who live in the same city and are going to want to rain on our parade.”

There is a sense in which Walker is not just measuring City against the modern-day United, but their predecessors. He argued in December that City were not yet on a par with Sir Alex Ferguson’s greatest teams or the Liverpool sides who sustained their dominance for longer. The right-back wants this side to be remembered for decades.

“With each trophy we win and each major trophy we’re going to be closer,” he said. “Pep is now the manager who has won the most [league titles] except Sir Alex Ferguson so we’re building this dynasty and legacy that people will look on this team for generations to come. When I first came here you saw a lot of United shirts and now you see a lot of kids wearing City shirts. We’re swinging the pendulum but we need to keep going because the United and Liverpool teams did it for years and years.”

If the defining feature of Guardiola’s management was initially his brand of football, perhaps it is now an innate ability to win. City have been through various tactical mutations, from false nine to a sizeable specialist centre-forward, in Erling Haaland, from using midfielders as full-backs to playing centre-backs there. The continuity comes in the results, in the trophies.

Pep Guardiola has instilled Man City with an innate ability to win

Pep Guardiola has instilled Man City with an innate ability to win (AP)

“It’s a machine, a well-oiled machine, and he is the driving force,” Walker said. “It comes from the manager. He pushes you every day and I can assure you what he is like on a matchday, he is like every day in training. He doesn’t put it on for documentaries or anything, that’s him and it breeds into you. You’re like a sponge and feed off that because his energy rubs off on you.

Walker has rarely seemed short of energy. He turns 34 in the summer but his pace remains intact. He can still outsprint forwards a decade his junior. “I’ll go as long as I can go,” he said. “This is a job that I love. I never wake up and think I don’t want to go in. I love playing football. It’s my happy place.”

The place he may have been found, however, was Munich. He came close to leaving City last summer. He was wanted by Bayern Munich. He was tempted to go. “It would have been a lot different because I’d have been at a different club but that was a moment in my personal life that I felt I wanted to move away from England and it was nothing to do with footballing reasons,” Walker explained. “But first and foremost I have to think about the football. It’s what I love doing and I felt that, come the end of it, I would be a lot happier at Manchester City than I would at Bayern Munich.”

Kyle Walker nearly joined Bayern Munich last summer but his decision to stay at Man City paid off

Kyle Walker nearly joined Bayern Munich last summer but his decision to stay at Man City paid off (PA Wire)

He has been rewarded for staying, and not merely with a three-year contract. He succeeded Ilkay Gundogan as captain. It made for a shift in his fortunes after he was benched for the Champions League final last summer. “People look at the Champions League as a disappointment but someone was going to have to miss out,” Walker rationalised. “There can only be 11 on the pitch and it wasn’t just me sat down. Riyad [Mahrez] missed the game, who was a fantastic part. You take it on the chin and you move on.”

Mahrez moved on to Saudi Arabia. Walker has been resurgent at City.

“To captain this great side,” he said. “People forget we’ve won the Super Cup and the Club World Cup where I was captain for both of them so Sunday was my treble, and I want to add the FA Cup this Saturday to really make the icing on the cake. Four trophies in your first year of being captain would not be bad.”

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