England manager Gareth Southgate has revealed he twice had to convince Kyle Walker to rethink international retirement.
The 33-year-old scored his first England goal in Saturday’s 1-1 Euro 2024 qualifier draw against Ukraine in Wroclaw.
It topped a fine performance from the Manchester City right-back, whose future for both club and country was uncertain over the summer.
Only an intervention from City boss Pep Guardiola saw Walker stay at the Etihad Stadium after Bayern Munich overtures almost saw him depart for Germany.
Now Southgate has told of how he also had to change Walker’s mind after both the Euro 2020 final defeat to Italy and last year’s World Cup in Qatar.
“I’ve talked him out of retirement twice – out of international football,” Southgate said after the draw in Poland.
“After the Euros and after the World Cup, I think he loves being here and he’s wanted to keep going and now he’s thinking about how many caps can he get.
“He’s critical to us. If we’re talking about world-class players in their position in our team then he’s probably one of them.
“I think he didn’t realise how much value we have for him and how important he is for us. He’s probably not going to thank me for sharing that!”
Caps: 7⃣7⃣Goals: 1⃣
— England (@England) September 9, 2023
Walker has enjoyed a good run of form of late and, when asked about his conversations with Southgate, he admitted the fierce competition in his position had led to him questioning his international future – but is now fully committed to adding to his 77 caps.
“Yeah, I’m playing well,” the City treble-winner said.
“Obviously, in a moment, at the time that me and Gareth spoke, the likes of Trent (Alexander-Arnold), Tripps (Kieran Trippier), Reece James coming through … you do think your days are numbered.
“And to sacrifice how many holidays and summers that I’ve sacrificed. I’ve been doing this since I was 19 (when) I joined the senior team. I’m 33 now.
“Me and Gareth have a good relationship off the field. We do speak and I feel that I can still bring something to the team. So why stop?”
Southgate has given Walker all but 20 of his senior England caps and believes the former Sheffield United and Tottenham man has continued to improve in recent years.
“I think he has,” he replied when asked if players get better with age.
“It doesn’t always happen but he’s, I think, not only playing but also him around the training, the way I hear him speak when he’s interviewed, his influence on the group, he’s become a really mature leader for us.
“He’s got huge experience of winning big matches and all week – two or three days into the training his focus was really clear, the way he was organising on the pitch and I think he’s enjoying the extra responsibility he’s had at his club and I know he’s ready to embrace that with us as well.
“But also the way he’s trained all week, his influence on younger players in the group. His all-round game, great composure in a position where you don’t always find it and our senior players were important and he was the pick against Ukraine.”