Like Harry Kane, Harry Winks, Andros Townsend, Ryan Mason and Josh Onomah, Walker-Peters was born in North London – Edmonton – and he grew up supporting Tottenham. Like his current and former team-mates, he has had to be patient in waiting for an opportunity but, when it finally came, he took it.
Kieran Trippier’s injury presented Walker-Peters with a chance on Sunday, and the right-back did not look out of place in an assured and energetic Premier League debut in Spurs’ 2-0 win at Newcastle. He finished the day by giving an impromptu dressing-room speech to Spurs manager Mauricio Pochettino and his team-mates, while clutching the man-of-the-match award.
The match was another step in Walker-Peters’ remarkable rise over the summer, which began with him best known at Spurs as ‘the other Kyle Walker’ but could end with the 20-year-old as the temporary possessor of his near-namesake’s old spot in the team.
In June, he forced his way into Paul Simpson’s England XI after two games of the Under-20 World Cup and spent the remainder of the tournament out-of-position at left-back, playing a key role in the Young Lions’ historic triumph.
The question now for the full-back is whether he can follow Kane and Winks in establishing himself in Pochettino’s squad long-term or if, like Townsend and Mason, his future lies elsewhere.
“I’m trying to show that I can be second in line,” he said in Orlando during Spurs’ pre-season tour of the USA. “I want to show the manager I’m ready, I want to show him he can trust me in big games if he needs to.”
At the time, that seemed fanciful given the £50million burning a hole in the pocket of Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy, and it was assumed that Spurs would sign a direct replacement for Walker. But a few days later, Levy’s comments to the New York stock exchange, mocking the spending of Spurs’ Premier League rivals, gave Walker-Peters hope.
“The academy is important because we can produce our own players,” Levy said. “We don’t have to go and spend £20million, £30million, £40million on a player and obviously that homegrown player has an affinity with the club that a player we buy doesn’t.”
Spurs have been in the market for a right-back since before Walker’s exit but they remain the only Premier League club yet to make a summer signing. Both the chairman and Pochettino prefer to promote young players rather than buy new ones where possible, and Walker-Peters’ debut may have helped convince them that they already have the perfect Walker replacement.
One promising appearance aside, however, there is a long way to go for Walker-Peters – something he acknowledged on Sunday. His display on Tyneside was composed and professional but hardly breathtaking, and came as part of an almost-unchanged Spurs side, facing a newly-promoted team playing with ten men for 40 minutes.
It was a reminder that there is no reason not to trust promising young players as part of a well-drilled defensive unit against a certain level of opposition – rather than proof that Walker-Peters is ready for a leading role.
His performances in the USA, where Spurs played Paris Saint-Germain, Roma and Manchester City in the International Champions Cup, were perhaps more telling. He was too safe and a little overawed in all three matches, and arguably at fault for PSG’s second goal in Spurs’ 4-2 win in Florida.
Pochettino spent the tour refusing to talk-up Walker-Peters’ chances of being Walker’s replacement and a week before the Newcastle game he insisted again that the defender was not ready for the Premier League. Afterwards, he claimed that was a bluff but it seems likely that Pochettino still has doubts about Walker-Peters’ suitability for the biggest stages.
“I want to get stronger, I want to keep getting faster, I want to work on my crossing,” Walker-Peters said earlier in the summer. “Kieran and Kyle have given me advice. A lot of it is they’re telling me to talk a lot more on the pitch, be a lot more vocal, get your winger to help you out. Seeing them in training, watching their crossing. Obviously Kieran Trippier is very good at crossing, Kyle is very strong. So seeing them on the training pitch, I’ve learnt like that.”
Given Spurs’ ambitions both domestically and in Europe this season, it is not the time to have a rookie on the job, however. Sterner tests than Newcastle lie ahead for Pochettino’s team, starting with Sunday’s match against defending champions Chelsea at Wembley. Trippier is not expected to have recovered from minor ligament damage to his right ankle in time but the manager has the option to switch Eric Dier to right-back and move one of Winks or Victor Wanyama into midfield.
Pochettino likes to rotate his full-backs, particularly after January, and his decision on Sunday will go some way to revealing whether he considers Walker-Peters as a viable option as Spurs’ second right-back. If not, the club must finally enter the transfer market.