It was the summer of a lifetime, and Tottenham were only too happy to play a small part in the success. In a series of interviews with the club’s official website, Kieran Trippier spoke first of his delight in being called up for England’s World Cup squad, then about assisting Harry Kane’s winner in the opening game against Tunisia.
“I couldn’t believe it when Harry scored the winner,” he said. “It was one of the best moments of my career.”
More was to come. Just 13 months after making his senior international debut at the age of 26, Trippier became only the third player to score for England in a World Cup semi-final: Charlton, Lineker, Trippier. If the defender himself was shocked at the speed of his rise on the international scene, those who had watched him develop were less taken aback.
“Every time he has to step up, he's been able to do it,” Lee Garcka, Trippier's former PE teacher at Woodhey High School, told the Daily Telegraph. “He's done it again and again. Each time he's asked to go up a level, he meets that challenge.”
Four months on from that magical summer, Trippier faces a very different challenge. On Saturday evening, he bore most of the guilt as Tottenham almost ceded a comfortable lead at Molineux. If Juan Foyth - making his first Premier League start - gave away both of Wolves’ penalties, it was Trippier who left the youngster exposed to the elements. The reaction from supporters was verging on brutal.
Change of role
Trippier’s World Cup earned him a huge amount of goodwill among England fans, but plenty of Tottenham followers will tell you that the current criticism has long been in the post. The Bury native is a fantastic attacking full-back, perhaps the best crosser of a ball on the run in the Premier League, but the accusation from sections of his own support is that attacking endeavours mask defensive flaws.
With England, that was hardly an issue. Playing as a right-wing-back next to a central defensive three meant Trippier was more of an attacker than a defender, and the comfort of knowing that Kyle Walker was behind him was crucial to his success in Russia. Walker would shuffle to the right to form a four-man defence when England went forward; with most of the play coming down that flank, Trippier effectively had a free role.
But back at club level, Trippier is struggling. In a back four - plus goalkeeper - that's had to cope with plenty of upheaval due to post-World Cup injuries, he's required to play a more defensive, protective role and has had issues adapting back to that system. Opposition managers have identified the flaw and are exposing it. We’re at the stage where a section of Spurs supporters would prefer Serge Aurier or the young Kyle Walker-Peters to be given a chance. From the “best moments” of a career to some of the most difficult.
Clearly, this has a knock-on effect at international level too. Gareth Southgate will be well aware of Trippier’s labouring form and has himself switched to the back four that gives the ex-Burnley man less attacking freedom. With Kyle Walker and Trent Alexander-Arnold both starting in the same role for Champions League sides, and Joe Gomez capable of playing it, there's plenty of competition for the right-back spot.
A need to rebound
This isn't intended to be an epitaph; Trippier can respond and rebound. He's more familiar than most with bouncing back from adversity, having been sold by Manchester City to the Championship as a youngster and then forced to wait for his chance behind Walker at Tottenham.
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The only possible response to criticism is to double down on hard work and steel yourself for the fight that follows. Trippier is precisely the type of character who will be prepared to prove himself all over again.
But the 28-year-old is emphatic proof that in elite sport, you get little time to take a step back and enjoy the view. A career is played out on a backwards-moving platform. Every time you stop, you slip back and are overtaken by those sprinting past. If goodwill affords you a little breathing room, it's quickly exhausted.
Despite the handsome financial rewards, comfort is a luxury seldom enjoyed by elite sportspeople. Rather than riding the crest of the wave, they swim frantically against the tide. Trippier is the latest to learn that yesterday means little in the battle to be relevant tomorrow.
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