On-loan defender Kyle Walker-Peters discusses his personal transition from Tottenham to Southampton, having moved clubs for the first time in his young career...
It may be a straightforward drive down the M3, but Kyle Walker Peters’s loan move from Tottenham Hotspur to Southampton represented a significant change for the young defender.
Walker Peters joined Spurs at the age of 10. Now 22, he’s spent more than half his life reporting to the club, following the same routine, being greeted by familiar faces.
Suddenly it all changed. In the last week of the January transfer window, the right-back was putting pen to paper on a deal that would see him spend the final third of the season at St Mary’s.
“I was quite nervous coming in,” he admits, though any apprehension soon vanished. “Not nervous to train, but nervous to be in the dressing room and be around new people.
“Even little things like the journey to the training ground – I was so used to everything, but it’s good to be taken out of your comfort zone.
“It was quite tough, but I feel like I got over it after two days. I’m just excited to train and to get the opportunity to play here.
“The boys here have made it so easy for me. I feel like I’ve known them ages! It’s been going really well.
“Everyone speaks to you. I could have a conversation with anyone in the dressing room and it would flow – it wouldn’t be awkward. It’s just the way the group of boys are, it makes it so easy for you.”
Walker-Peters is staying in a Southampton hotel, but has been house hunting for a home that would see him reunited with Dior, his toy poodle.
“Over the winter break I went back (to London) for one day, but then I was away on holiday. I haven’t been back much, but I just miss my dog,” he says, before revealing his love of NBA games on the PlayStation, which he plays against Spurs teammate Dele Alli.
“That always helps pass time and I enjoy playing, so most of the time I’m just chilling in my hotel room, maybe watching a series or playing on my PlayStation. I just try to relax as much as possible.
“Whether it’s PlayStation, whether it’s cards, whether it’s a board game, I always want to win. I love competing.
“I’m not actually a bad loser… but I hate losing!” he laughs – you can still hate losing without making it obvious enough to satisfy your opponent.
Growing up in Tottenham, the England youth international – a World Cup winner at Under-20 level – only ever dreamed of playing for Spurs.
That dream was realised at the age of 20, after a decade in the Academy, when he started the Premier League season opener at Newcastle in 2017/18.
Spurs won 2-0 and Walker-Peters was man of the match.
The youngster had lift-off – or so he thought. Instead he made a handful of cup appearances, but did not start another Premier League game until the final day of the campaign.
Again he made a significant impact, this time assisting two goals in a helter-skelter 5-4 victory over Leicester.
“Being a kid and seeing the stadium, I always wanted to play there,” he remembers.
“I didn’t get to play at White Hart Lane, but I’ve played at the new one and I’ve had some memorable moments for Tottenham in the little amount of games I’ve played.
“If you get man of the match, you expect to start the next game, which was against Chelsea. I guess you can say that’s a lot to ask of a young player, but at the time I was really disappointed not to start.
“I never understood why I didn’t play much after I got man of the match, but the manager has to make decisions and what he thinks is best.
“I just always made sure in training I worked hard and really tried to improve for myself, because ultimately when that opportunity does come, as it did at the end of the season, I had to show I’d improved and I was capable to play. I think I did that.”
It had been a stop-start beginning to his senior career and proved a sign of things to come, but you won’t find Walker-Peters criticising former Saints boss Mauricio Pochettino, however much he wanted to play.
“I can’t really fault him,” he says. “He gave me a platform to be where I am now, so he was great to work with.
“You’re young and you’ve been given an opportunity to be in the first-team dressing room and train every day with some of the best players in the world.
“I don’t think it’s your place to go to the manager and say, ‘why am I not playing?’ With every opportunity you get, you just have to show it. I tried to do that as best I could.
“Even if I was left out of the squad, I was always made to work hard to improve my fitness, which meant if an opportunity did come, I was always ready. I don’t know if all managers are like that, but I think that shows that he cares.
“He easily could’ve said, ‘right, you’re not in the squad – have a day off’, or come in and put a rubbish session on. But he always put on a really tough session.
“Sometimes it would annoy you because it was so tough! But ultimately, it’s in your best interests, so I can’t fault him.”
Last season represented progress for Walker-Peters; his total appearances in all competitions rose from nine to 10, including an hour at the Nou Camp, and his Premier League starts doubled to four.
On Boxing Day 2018, the 21-year-old became the youngest player to register three assists in a Premier League match since 2003, doing so in a 5-0 thrashing of Bournemouth at Wembley. Things were looking up.
This season, he started Spurs’ first three league games and appeared to be seizing his chance, but then results unravelled for Pochettino, who departed in November.
“I think had he stayed, I’d still be at Tottenham,” Walker-Peters states.
“He was never really big on loans. There were always opportunities for him to send me on loan and he never did, so I think that showed his faith in me.
“Despite not playing me all the time, it showed that he wanted me around. If he hadn’t left, I don’t think I’d be on loan, so it just shows how fast football can change.
“Mourinho comes in and I get to play one game, but I don’t really get an opportunity like I thought I would, in terms of two or three games rotating with Serge Aurier, but the manager has to make decisions. That was his decision, so that’s fine.
“I’m just happy to be here – I get to play Premier League football with top players still, I get to learn a new style, meet new people and come into a different situation in the league, which is good for me.
“Ultimately, whatever happens it’s positive for me, because I can only learn and only improve.”
Already aware of Ralph Hasenhüttl’s interest in bringing him to St Mary’s, Walker-Peters singles out Saints’ New Year’s Day triumph over his parent club and the redemption win at Leicester in January as games that convinced him this move was the right one.
“I was probably watching games from the back end of November,” he says. The timing coincides with Pochettino’s departure.
“I was trying to watch as many games as possible – not just Southampton, but the other teams who were interested in me as well.
“Watching those games gave me a good feeling of me being able to fit in well in this team. That was important for me to do.
“Watching them against Tottenham impressed me the most, and also the game against Leicester, because earlier in the season Leicester really played well at St Mary’s.
“For the manager and the rest of the staff to come up with a plan to go to their stadium and beat them… the way they played – with energy, putting everything on the line – really enticed me.”
The key word, in his mind, is ‘energy’.
“When the game is really quick, I think that suits me,” he explains. “I like to play with a lot of energy and I like to run a lot, so that was a huge factor in me coming here.
“Hopefully if we keep doing what we’re doing, we’ll win games playing with high intensity and high pressing.
“It’s a lot of what I am as a player and a lot of what I know, so it’s not too different, but of course there are tactics that I need to learn and improve to play in this team. With time, I think I’ll get there.”