Kieran Trippier (left) speaks with England manager Gareth Southgate during Sunday's match
Credit: GETTY IMAGES
Gareth Southgate says Kieran Trippier is a “defensive animal” and it feels like an appropriate description. There is something animalistic in the intense way that Atlético Madrid’s Diego Simeone coaches his players to defend, aggressively hunting down their opponents and Trippier has undoubtedly benefitted from two seasons in Spain working under ‘Cholo’.
Those defensive qualities are frequently overlooked in the modern-game especially with full-backs who are often now regarded as the most creative source for their teams and Trippier was caught up in the debate over whether Trent Alexander-Arnold deserved inclusion ahead of him in the England squad.
In the end, of course, Southgate selected four players whose preferred position is right-back before Alexander-Arnold unfortunately had to withdraw through injury. The manager only then sprung another surprise by playing Trippier at left-back against Croatia with Ben Chilwell, a Champions League winner with Chelsea, not even making his 23-man match-day squad.
Even though Trippier has played on the left for England before, and did so in the warm-up game against Austria, he did not feature there once in his 35 appearances for Atlético in 2020-21.
That will have hurt Chilwell and Luke Shaw, who has also had an outstanding season, but Southgate was clear in originally selecting his four right-backs that they were all versatile and could play in more than one position. Nevertheless Chilwell and Shaw would have more easily accepted losing out to each other and it must have been difficult to watch a makeshift left-back being funnelled across instead.
But, as Southgate has pointed out in the build-up to Euro 2020, Trippier is a far more accomplished defender than the one who left Tottenham Hotspur two years ago and, also, that the assessments of him have fallen into the familiar English trap of failing to appreciate the accomplishments of a player plying his trade outside the Premier League.
Both Jadon Sancho and Jude Bellingham have caught the eye playing in the Bundesliga for Borussia Dortmund but the skills that Trippier has are harder to highlight in a clips package.
“What Kieran has, firstly, is hugely underestimated,” Southgate said. “I think people are still seeing the lad that was at Spurs a couple of years ago and not the defensive animal that has grown at Atlético Madrid, trusted by one of the best coaches and most successful coaches in the world.”
Such is Simeone’s faith in Trippier that he has not only made him his first-choice, keeping out Croatia’s Sime Vrsalijko who also played at Wembley, but brought back the 30-year-old immediately after his 10-week ban from football for breaching Football Association rules on betting had expired. Trippier missed 12 matches – with Vrsalijko replacing him for most of them – and Atlético struggled badly in his absence.
Southgate was also concerned about the effect of that punishment on Trippier and at the disciplinary hearing last October, the timing of which ruled him out of an England game, gave a glowing reference to a player he has also described as a “soldier” and a “warrior”.
After the win over Croatia Southgate was even more effusive about Trippier’s qualities which hinted that Chilwell and Shaw may have difficulties dislodging him – unless he is moved across to right-back – especially if England go deep into the tournament.
“He gets his distances right on cover, he’s good in one v one to stop crosses, and his talking is really good,” Southgate said. “We had a back four, there was always going to have changes in it and we felt that communication, that organisation was an important part.”
Trippier has spoken about how he has developed since moving to Spain, where he became Atlético’s first English player for 95 years, and gained an appreciation that he is – first and foremost – a defender rather than a full-back who has to “fly forward” and provide something to the attack.
The only downside for England is that Trippier did not advance a great deal down the left but that was more than offset by the work down by Mason Mount and Raheem Sterling, who moved inside, with Kalvin Phillips also pushing forward from midfield into those areas.
Such has been Trippier’s progress that Manchester United’s interest in him, first revealed by Telegraph Sport last December, is genuine and although Atlético want to keep him they may have a fight on their hands.
Trippier made it into most observers La Liga team of the season as Atlético won the title and recently switched agents which can often be a sign that a player is looking to make a move although a 12-month extension to his contract was triggered – meaning he has two years left – by making more than 20 games. Despite his qualities it is unlikely any club will trigger the €60 million (£51.6m) buy-out clause.
It may be that Southgate does make changes against Scotland and Czech Republic, depending on the permutations of the group. “We’ll look at every opponent, we’ll look at our team for every game, I think we have to have flexibility,” Southgate said. “That will work its way around, there’s going to be opportunities for a lot more players in the next couple of weeks.” The importance of Trippier, though, is now obvious to everyone.
England defeat Croatia