Gary Neville held the right-back position for England at Euro ’96, France ’98, Euro 2000, Euro 2004, and World Cup 2006 – his style of play going forward was predictable but effective. When England began attacks down the right hand side, he would support the right-sided midfielder, often David Beckham, overlapping him, trying to get in front of the opposition left-back, and crossing for Shearer/Scholes/Crouch/Rooney, etc. 32 club assists for a right-back is impressive.
But while Neville was one of the first names on the teamsheet, both due to being a good right-back and the absence of competition for places, more recently England have struggled to find someone to make that position their own.
Glen Johnson has gone in and out of form, and never truly impressed for the Three Lions. Micah Richards likewise was unable to hold the spot for Manchester City, and as such failed to establish himself for England. For a period, the same was the case for Tottenham’s Kyle Walker.
But maybe not anymore. Just as Liverpool’s Nathaniel Clyne threatened to end the right-back merry-go-round, Walker, who enjoyed an excellent season with Tottenham, has started Euro 2016 like it would be an afront on his character to even consider an alternative in his position.
Going forward he has the pace to beat players before either delivering a Kane-bound cross or pulling the ball back for the likes of Rooney and Lallana to attack. What’s more, his effectiveness is increased when Rooney plays in the deeper midfield position, where his range of passing is able to find Walker beyond the opposition full-back.
And where Spurs fans would point to his previously inconsistent defensive performances, he has been solid against Russia and Wales, with concentration held at maximum and mistakes at a minimum.
Whilst he can lose the ball going forward, the fact that he is willing to take on defenders gives England an extra attacking threat, and when he does lose it, Eric Dier is on hand to cover as he did for Tottenham throughout the season.
And also thanks to his club manager Mauricio Pochettino, his fitness levels are among the highest of anyone in the squad, and his ability to make run after run as the opponents tire, could prove crucial.
Bigger tests lay ahead for England, and Slovakia may not pose the threat of opponents in the knockout stages. But if England have found the right man for this position, in the best of form, it can only help in their plans for progression in France this summer.