The surprise transfer of Kieran Trippier to Atlético Madrid was the conclusion of an eventful 18 months for the defender. He has faced a mixture of highs and lows following his most successful campaign for Tottenham Hotspur.
Kyle Walker’s departure to Manchester City in the summer of 2017 saw Trippier initially hold down the right-back role before he was rotated by Mauricio Pochettino. The Argentine coach would either use him or Serge Aurier depending on energy levels and based on opposition strengths and weaknesses.
Trippier was then arguably England’s best player at the World Cup in Russia, as the right-sided wing-back in Gareth Southgate’s 3-5-2 system. His free-kick goal in the semi-final against Croatia was his individual highlight and the pinnacle of a memorable campaign for the Three Lions.
Then came a poor season for Spurs through a combination of injuries and insecurity about his future affecting his displays, which ultimately resulted in his switch to Spain. Diego Simeone recruited a number of stylistically different players to his usual defensive philosophy, which hinted Atletico would move towards a more expansive approach.
Trippier started his career at Manchester City and won the FA Youth Cup alongside Daniel Sturridge. It was a loan move to Barnsley though, that saw him get his first opportunity in senior football.
“When he first came in, you could see his qualities,” former teammate David Preece told Yahoo Sport. “Straight away his crossing was unbelievable. He is one of the best players that I have ever seen crossing the ball on the run.
“He doesn’t have to adjust his stride. It’s a really difficult art for wide men and full-backs to cross the ball when they are running at full pace.”
Under Mark Robbins, Barnsley signed a number of young players on-loan including Danny Drinkwater, Ryan Shotton and Jay Rodriguez. His 4-2-3-1 system saw his holding midfielders and central defenders maintain their solid square base, with an emphasis on the full-backs to provide width and creativity.
“It really suited him, to give him that freedom to go forward because that was his game,” says Preece, who now works as a goalkeeping coach at Swedish club Ostersunds FK. “Going the other way, defensively he was still good.”
He was still only 20 at this stage and the 2010/11 season proved a huge learning curve. He was substituted at half-time in a match with Doncaster Rovers, after he had suffered a nightmare 45 minutes.
“He did have a few flaws in his game, where quite often a winger would get him squared up,” admitted Preece. “He developed that and it’s maybe not the strongest part of his game, but he has worked on it and made himself a better defender.”
His move to Burnley will have certainly assisted his development, as Sean Dyche formed a well-drilled defensive unit. He had four years under his tutelage, whilst at Spurs he returned to his natural attacking tendencies.
“We provide [Kieran] with the platform to go forward because we create the system and dynamic to put him in the best position to play,” said Pochettino after 3-2 win over Wolverhampton Wanderers in November. However, his manager did criticise him afterwards and Trippier himself has acknowledged it was an “emotionally draining” time at the end in North London.
He became the first Englishman to play for Atletico in La Liga when he made his debut against Getafe. A couple of early passes on his home debut for Los Colchoneros saw the crowd applaud him in appreciation of his technique, whilst he also provided the assist for Alvaro Morata in the only goal of the game.
He was positioned higher up the pitch than Atleti full-backs normally operate in the subsequent encounter with Leganes, with Simeone admitting that he had done so in order to create a numerical overload in midfield. They found themselves 2-0 down after 20 minutes for the first time in Simone era against Eibar, but they turned the game around and are now top of the league with three victories, a whole five points ahead of champions Barcelona.
Southgate admitted last week that he had left Walker out of the squad, so that he could take a closer look at his other options. If England were still playing with wing-backs, then Trippier would be almost guaranteed his place, but the shift to a back four in the last year and the form of Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold and emergence of Aaron Wan-Bissaka means he has a fight to remain in the national frame.
At Atlético, Trippier has the right manager to return him to his best and the 28-year-old is fully aware of the opportunity. “It all comes from Cholo,” Trippier told AFP.
“I think he can take me to the next level. For a defender I don't think there's a better place in the world to be.”
It’s a mutually beneficial relationship with Simeone looking to transition to a more possession-style and Trippier wanting to learn further. This can only help England and Southgate and perhaps even prolong his international career.