Kyle Walker-Peters: Your team-mates are your rivals

Tottenham youngster Kyle Walker-Peters on competing for contracts, life in digs and balancing school and football

It’s every child’s dream to join an academy – what’s it like to play for one? 
Life in an academy is fun, but you have to make a lot of sacrifices. There are times when you have to miss birthday parties or things you’re looking forward to at school that all your friends are going to. But on the flip side, you’re playing football and doing what you love. I used to play 5-a-side with my friends all the time but once I reached a certain age I had to stop to make sure I wasn’t tired at training and didn’t get injured. It’s hard to tell your friends when you’re in Year 8, but I needed to do it. 

How did you balance school and football? 
I didn’t find school that tough; I was capable of sitting in a lesson and remembering most of what I was taught. My parents always drilled it into me that I needed to get my grades. My school work came before my football. If I didn’t complete my school work, my parents would come down hard on me. I’m a better person because of that. I think that’s benefited me in football. When I do my warm-ups I do it properly, I do everything properly, that attention to detail comes from school I think.

More after the break

Do you learn life skills in academies?
At Tottenham I think we do. I lived in digs with a host family and although they did a lot for me, I still had to be independent and do my own washing and cooking my own breakfast. Experiences like that really help. You travel a lot in football and dealing with people in different cultures is a great learning experience. When we were 14 we went to Qatar and stayed at Aspire academy, it was incredible. People would pray at midday everyday at Aspire, and we had to learn about that and respect that. Just being in another country and seeing how they dress and behave is a great experience.

Have you learnt things from foreign players?
When you’re 18 you really start to learn from the foreign players because the clubs start to bring them in. I stayed in digs with a Serbian centre-back called Milos Veljkovic. When I first lived in digs, I realised he was a top player. I looked at how he lived, carried himself, how he ate, I’d always ask him questions. I wasn’t playing international football at that time and I was asking him about everything. His advice gave me confidence. He won the under-19 European Championships and Under-20 World Cup. He’s a top player and a great personality.

Are there personality differences between foreign and English players?
Definitely. The foreign boys are more selfish. They understand they’ve come to eventually play in the first team. They’re friendly, but they don’t come to make friends. Milos was competing against me and other players for a place in the team. You could see he had that mentality.  You’ve got to look at people ahead of you and he had that mentality and a lot of the foreign boys do.

Are your team-mates your rivals?
I didn’t feel that way until I got to about 16 and people started talking about professional contracts and scholarships. I felt I was trying to get the other players in my position out of the club. I wanted to show them that they didn’t need anyone else because they already got me. When I got to that age my dad was a big influence. He would always say “there’s no friends in football, you can be friendly, but you’ll never have friends.” When I got to 16 I realised I had to be selfish.

Do you feel a constant pressure to perform?
I felt pressure when I was on trial, not from the club or staff but from myself. I wanted to do the best I could. I felt less pressure once I’d signed but I broke my leg and then I really started to feel under pressure. I was watching my team-mates playing every week and I could see the improvements they were making, that wasn’t easy. You also know that you need to earn a new contract and you worry you might miss out. The club were great about it, though, but you worry a lot more when you’re younger.

Kyle Walker-Peters was speaking at the launch of the Adidas Glitch 17 Optiflage boots 

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