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Kieran Trippier has not missed a minute of action for Atlético Madrid this season, as the Spanish club have begun the domestic season in impressive and unbeaten style.
The 30-year-old has started in five of England’s seven matches, being rested in last Thursday’s friendly win over the Republic of Ireland to keep him fresh for Wednesday night’s Nations League tie against Iceland.
Which brings us to the missing game – Denmark at Wembley last month, also in the Nations League. It is the elephant on the zoom because Trippier cannot speak about his Football Association charge for alleged breaches of its betting regulations and which was the cause of his unavailability.
Even when viewed from a distance, the episode has lost none of its shock quality. To recap, the betting charge, which has hung over him for some time, relates to his move from Tottenham to Atlético in July of last year.
The FA counts the successful running of the England team among its most important jobs and it decided to schedule Trippier’s hearing for close to the Denmark match, meaning that he could not play. Gareth Southgate, a frontline politician who doubles as the England manager, did a fine job of concealing his exasperation in public.
Jamal Musiala scored on his full England Under-21s debut in a 5-0 win over Albania.
The Bayern Munich midfielder announced himself with a goal on an impressive night at Molineux. Eddie Nketiah netted a second-half double and also missed a late penalty after Callum Hudson-Odoi and James Justin had put England in charge.
The Young Lions finish their Euro 2021 campaign unbeaten and top of Group Three, winning nine and drawing one. They now await next month's group stage draw ahead of the first part of the tournament in March with the knockout phase held in May and June.
Seventeen-year-old Musiala, who can also play for Germany, has given Boothroyd a selection headache after just two Under-21 appearances for England.
"He gives me a nice problem going into March," said Boothroyd. "I thought Jamal was excellent. You can see that physically he's not finished. He's going to be a brute of a man. His brain and his feet are the most impressive, he's razor-sharp. We're really pleased with him to step up the way he has done." PA Media
Trippier has said that he did not place any bets himself or profit from bets made by other people but the saga has been an exacting mental test for him. He knows how hard the FA is pursuing him, just as it did with Daniel Sturridge. The former Liverpool and England striker was found guilty of betting-related irregularities in March after the FA appealed against the findings of an independent commission, and he was banned for four months. The fear for Trippier is that if the verdict goes against him, he could be looking at a lengthy period out of the game – reportedly up to six months.
And so he plays – apart from against Denmark – and waits.
It has to be pretty unsettling but then again, this has been a year like no other and Trippier is not the sort of character to lose focus on what matters. Southgate described him as a “warrior” after he played out of position at left wing-back in the home win over Belgium last month and he takes a single-mindedness into every challenge.
“I can’t speak about anything about the FA case but I’m just thinking positive,” Trippier says. “I’m just concentrating on my football and trying to give my all like I’ve done throughout my whole career. My love’s always been there [for the game] and it always will be. I love coming away with England at every opportunity so my thought is just enjoying my football.”
Like everybody, Trippier has responded to the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic which for him have included accepting a temporary 70% pay cut with his Atlético teammates in April. Living in Spain, he has missed his parents and grandparents but is thankful that he has his wife and “two mad children” with him.
Trippier has felt the physical strain, partly because with Atlético having loaned Santiago Arias to Bayer Leverkusen, the manager, Diego Simeone, has no back-up for him at right-back. Trippier has had to adapt with Atlético playing higher up the pitch and without the protection of Koke at right midfield. Simeone has used Koke in the middle or on the left.
“It’s very intense [under Simeone] but when I went there, I was already used to that type of training at Tottenham [under Mauricio Pochettino],” he says. “It is difficult playing on a Saturday, on a Tuesday in the Champions League and then on a Saturday again but you want to play as many games as you can. It’s about managing yourself off the pitch, how you recover, being professional.”
Trippier’s transfer came after he lost the Champions League final with Spurs to Liverpool, coincidentally at Atlético’s stadium, and was overlooked by Southgate for the Nations League finals.
“When I wasn’t in the squad for the Nations League it was very difficult,” Trippier says. “I knew my performances at Tottenham weren’t at the standard of the other right-backs who got picked ahead of me. So I knew I needed a new challenge, a new league maybe. I feel I needed to improve on my defending and I’ve learned a lot, about myself, too. It’s benefited me, my game, my awareness in games.”
For England this season, Trippier has played at right wing-back and left-back in a four, as well as left wing-back. Southgate prizes his versatility and it will be a factor, together with his mentality, when the manager considers his squad for next summer’s European Championship. Competition for places at right-back is intense, with Reece James also emerging to challenge Trent Alexander-Arnold. Trippier will embrace it.