Naughton’s left to ponder wisdom of battling with Walker at Spurs
PUBLISHED: 11:58 05 March 2014 | UPDATED: 20:30 05 March 2014
Kyle Naughton is used to competing with Kyle Walker to play in his favoured right-back spot – and he is used to making way for his younger team-mate.
A 20-year-old Naughton was the first-choice right-back at Sheffield United for the vast majority of the 2008/09 season, making 50 appearances as the Blades reached the Championship play-off finals.
However, Walker broke into the team at the end of that campaign, starting the final two league games and the three ensuing play-off matches – and Naughton was moved to left-back to accommodate him. It has become an all-too familiar story.
At the time, Naughton was an England Under-21 international and he was named in the PFA Championship Team of the Year.
Everton bid £5million for his services in the summer of 2009, while Aston Villa were believed to be interested, but Spurs swooped to sign him – and they took Walker too, agreeing a double deal thought to be worth around £9million.
Nearly five years on, Naughton is probably still questioning the wisdom of his decision, and continuing to compete with Walker, who has overtaken him at club and international level.
In 2009/10 Spurs had Vedran Corluka and Alan Hutton. And, although Naughton and Walker both made the odd appearance for the Lilywhites, they spent most of their time out on loan.
Walker went back to Sheffield United and then aided QPR’s promotion challenge before making the step up to Aston Villa, while Naughton spent time with Middlesbrough and Leicester.
Walker’s spell with Villa was a key period, proving his Premier League quality – and he started the 2011/12 campaign as Spurs’ first-choice right-back, while Naughton was loaned out again, this time to Norwich.
Walker has not looked back, winning the PFA Young Player of the Year award in April 2012 and breaking into the England squad.
Naughton has never ousted him and, while Walker has made 132 appearances for Spurs, Naughton has played just 52 games, becoming a squad player and spending much of his time playing out of position at left-back.
Asked to reflect on his Spurs career to date, Naughton said: “It didn’t start off too well, I didn’t play many games and I went out on loan.
“I’ve been on quite a few loans since I’ve been here, which is always good, I believe, for everyone.
“This year and last year it hasn’t looked too bad. I think I played 25 games or something (26) last year and this season, with Tim [Sherwood] coming in, I’ve played quite a few already.”
Looking back at his arrival alongside Walker – a friend, team-mate and rival – Naughton said: “In some senses you could say it was strange, but then again I went out on loan quite a bit, so it wasn’t a case of fighting [with him] because I was trying to do my thing to come back and try to play again here.
“But it’s quite difficult when someone’s doing so well – he’s broken into the England squad. Sometimes you have to say ‘fair enough’. He’s doing very well.
“He’s taken off over the last few years hasn’t he? He went on loan back to Sheffield, and then he went to [QPR and] Villa and then he came back to Tottenham, and he’s never really looked back since, breaking into the England set-up. He’s definitely one of the top right-backs around.”
The question is how long Naughton will stick around to sit in Walker’s shadow and, although he has dutifully filled in at left-back when required, he is fully aware of where his strengths are.
“I’m not going to lie, I’m a right-back,” he said. “That’s the position I want to play, but it has been difficult with Walker doing so well.
“Obviously I’m not wishing anything on him, but he tends to play a full season without getting injured.
“That’s my preferred side but if something happens then I’m willing to play anywhere – midfield, up front, wherever. Obviously, left-back’s come up quite a bit and I’ve played there.
“I’m 25 now and there is a stage where you think ‘am I going to be number one?’ And that’s what I’m looking for, I want to be playing every single week and I want to be playing regularly.
“I’m not sure what’s going to happen, but if I can’t hold down a first-team spot then maybe I do have to look elsewhere.”
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