World Cup: How Tottenham Defender Kyle Walker Is Adapting to Life with England

Thomas CooperFeatured ColumnistSeptember 9, 2013

Kyle Walker got a taste of the Kiev's Olympic Stadium ahead of England's World Cup qualifier with Ukraine. It is his biggest international test thus far.
Kyle Walker got a taste of the Kiev's Olympic Stadium ahead of England's World Cup qualifier with Ukraine. It is his biggest international test thus far.Clive Rose/Getty Images

Kyle Walker has been making the wrong kind of headlines as an England international these last few days.

As Bleacher Report's Ben Blackmore has detailed, he was caught taking the legal high nitrous oxide. The Football Association decided against disciplinary action, but the incident was an unwanted distraction ahead of Tuesday's World Cup qualifier with Ukraine.

Since making his debut in late 2011, Walker's seven England appearances have resulted in seven England wins.

Four of those caps have come from friendlies, the other three in World Cup qualifiers against San Marino and Moldova on Saturday.

Still, having started six of those matches, Walker can claim partial credit for the unblemished record he has representing his country. After all, you can only beat who is put in front of you.

The Tottenham Hotspur full-back performed decently enough in his latest appearance, England's 4-0 win over Moldova on Friday night.

Walkers surging runs from the deep provided width. His ability to get forward quickly offered a useful outlet for his teammates, particularly when Theo Walcott moved inside.

On a few occasions, his touch deserted him, but the weakness of the opposition ensured he did not suffer any real consequences.

Those lapses in control and concentration served as a reminder that the 23-year-old is still learning his craft at the top level. Last season was unprecedented for him individually in the on-field challenges he faced amid his continued development as a player.

Nevertheless, Walker has earned the right to continue as Tottenham's first choice right-back.

Finding his feet in international football has proved trickier.

Glen Johnson has held the aforementioned position for the best part of five years. He started all of England's games at World Cup 2010 and Euro 2012. If not for injury, the Liverpool defender would likely have played against Ukraine. According to the Liverpool Echo, he will be out England's remaining World Cup qualifiers too.

 As disappointing as that will be for Johnson, Walker will relish the opportunity to convince his manager Roy Hodgson he is good enough to replace him.

Doing so will be easier said than done. On Tuesday he comes up against Yevhen Konoplyanka.

The left winger opened the scoring in Ukraine's 1-1 draw with England a year ago. That goal displayed his ability to come inside and hurt teams in spectacular fashion.

Walker will be primarily charged with negating this threat. He can match Konoplyanka for pace, but the FC Dnipro star is a tricky customer who will look to bamboozle him with a sleight of foot.

In addition to going toe-to-toe with Konoplyanka, Walker must strike a sensible balance between his defensive responsibilities and his natural inclination to go forward.

That sounds obvious, but England as a collective are facing an intriguing examination of their ability to take the game to Ukraine without being unnecessarily exposed.

At Spurs, Walker has been able to rely on Aaron Lennon to cover him when he has gone deep into the opposition's half. His lack of familiarity playing behind Walcott means he cannot assume anything and has to be reasonably cautious in not allowing himself to get caught too far forward.

In the biggest match of his England career thus far, an assured performance is required from Walker. The potential rewards for both him and his team ensure nothing less than a solid display will do.

A win is desirable in their attempts to top Group H. Defeat is best not contemplated.

For a player still establishing himself on the international scene this is a big ask. But if Walker wants to play regularly at the kind of levels he believes his quality deserves, he has to take his chances to show it.