For an entire generation of English football fans, it was a ‘where were you?’ moment. Not since David Beckham’s penalty against Argentina at the 2002 World Cup, or perhaps Michael Owen’s dribble against the same opponents four years earlier, had an England goal felt so significant. Historic, even.
Of course, we all know that Kieran Trippier’s stunning freekick scored just five minutes into last summer’s World Cup semi final against Croatia was, ultimately, irrelevant, but the sight of the Tottenham Hotspur right back running off in celebration as the ball the back of the net told the story of not just England’s glorious summer, but that of the player’s too.
There were many individual success stories for England in Russia, but Trippier provided one of the most compelling. His emergence as one of the best full backs in the Premier League over the 2017/18 season allowed Gareth Southgate to deploy Kyle Walker on the right side of a back three, implying Trippier further up the wing.
This gave England a real attacking outlet down the right, making the most of Trippier’s crossing ability, but also gave them an extra dimension in defence, with Walker, fresh off the back of a season of education working under Pep Guardiola, adept at bringing the ball out from the back, linking the lines of defence and midfield.
Since returning from the World Cup, though, Trippier’s form has fallen off a cliff. The 28-year-old isn’t even a first team pick for Spurs right now – he hasn’t featured since the North London derby draw against Arsenal at the start of March. On the basis of the past few months, Trippier is lucky to even be in the squad for England’s opening Euro 2020 qualifiers against Czech Republic and Montenegro.
Southgate has some room for experimentation, with a somewhat favourable Euro 2020 qualification draw giving England leeway, but nonetheless, Trippier’s dreadful form has given him a problem. These games, starting with Czech Republic on Friday and Montenegro on Monday, will give an indication as to whether he has a solution in mind.
“I could have done a lot better this season,” Trippier admitted when asked about his poor form this week. “I’ve picked up a lot of injuries and I’ll admit there have been games when I’ve looked back and thought: ‘I could have done this or that better.’ You know when you’ve had a bad game but it’s all about learning. There is a lot of competition – me, Trent [Alexander-Arnold], Kyle [Walker] – and you’ve got Wan-Bissaka playing really well for Palace.”
Trippier is right to highlight the competition he faces. Trent Alexander-Arnold has, in the minds of many, leapfrogged the Spurs man as England’s best right back, with the 20-year-old boasting many of the same qualities – mobility, crossing and an eye for goal from set pieces. Alexander-Arnold won’t be available for the next week’s fixtures, but he represents the future for England, at least a part of it.
Then there’s Aaron Wan-Bissaka, surprisingly left out of Southgate’s latest squad. The 21-year-old has been something of a revelation for Crystal Palace this season, sparking speculation that he could be a target for the big boys, including the two Manchester clubs, this summer. In the mould of someone like Dani Alves, Alexander-Arnold is a whole right wing in one player.
Russia and the World Cup might be just nine months in the past, but for Trippier it feels much longer. What looked like being the precursor to a number of years at the top now seems to be a peak from which a fall has followed. Southgate has some sort of duty to arrest, or at least attempt to, Trippier’s decline, but his primary duty is to England and increasingly the Spurs right back doesn’t factor in that thinking.