Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 13 December 2019

Kieran Trippier set for fascinating sequel with Atletico Madrid after rise and fall at Tottenham

English right-back moved to the Spanish side after a tough spell which had seen him displaced by club and country

Kieran Trippier poses with his Atletico Madrid shirt after being unveiled to the media and fans. Reuters
Kieran Trippier poses with his Atletico Madrid shirt after being unveiled to the media and fans. Reuters

Kieran Trippier had reluctantly concluded he needed to leave Tottenham Hotspur. It was safe to say then that Juventus, Napoli or Bayern Munich would not be possible destinations, nor Atletico Madrid the club that signed him.

It was some 27 months ago and a player who was otherwise happy at White Hart Lane realised he needed first-team football.

Then he got it. Mauricio Pochettino’s relationship with Kyle Walker broke down, Trippier was parachuted into first an FA Cup semi-final and then, with his rival’s move to Manchester City, the status of first-choice right-back.

Following a change of formation, he assumed a similar role for his country. Courtesy of his pinpoint set-pieces, he was the outstanding player in his position in this World Cup. With a wonderful free kick, he became only the third Englishman to score in the semi-final of the most prestigious tournament of all.

If part of sport’s beauty lies in its capacity for unpredictability, Trippier is an advertisement for its qualities. He feels the everyman who has become English football’s extraordinary outlier.

Even after a season when his performances suffered, as though it were a necessary correctional after his stunning, unexpected rise in the previous 15 months, he generated interest from some of the continent’s giants and secured a £21 million (Dh100.9m) move to Spain’s blue-collar superpower.

In a sense he has been discarded by club and country, dropped by England – an honest Trippier admitted correctly – within a year of his Russian exploits and sold by Spurs after a slump in form. And yet, in becoming Atletico’s first Englishman since the Spanish Civil War, Trippier has forged a fascinating sequel to his rise and fall.

The temptation is to quip that Atletico cannot have seen him play in the last 12 months. If a game summed up Trippier’s 2018-19, perhaps it was the second leg of the Uefa Champions League quarter-final against Manchester City. He was twice exposed by Raheem Sterling when the winger scored in the opening 20 minutes.

And yet it was Trippier’s corner that, via Fernando Llorente’s arm and hip, led to the decisive goal. It was progress, but with problems highlighted, an improbable run towards glory coming with deficiencies being advertised.

He was at fault, too, when Ajax’s Matthijs de Ligt scored in the semi-final. It makes it all the more interesting he has joined Atletico, arguably Europe’s best defensive side in the Diego Simeone era. Atletico have not conceded 30 league goals in a season since 2013.

Trippier is charged with replacing the long-serving loyalist Juanfran. If anyone can conjure improvement and calibrate a defence, it is Simeone, but Trippier does not seem the obvious defender for his back four.

Yet Simeone and Pochettino possess common denominators besides being former Argentina team-mates. Each has a high-tempo style of football, an education from Marcelo Bielsa and an emphasis on collectivism.

Simeone’s fondness for 4-4-2 perhaps makes him the most English of managers at elite-level European clubs; Trippier was drilled in the formation in his days playing for Sean Dyche at Burnley.

Another Premier League exile may welcome his arrival. Alvaro Morata’s only productive on-field relationship at Chelsea came with a right-back who is an excellent crosser, with Cesar Azpilicueta his supplier in chief. Given Atletico’s willingness to take the aerial approach, Trippier’s delivery could render him an asset.

And yet it is hard to know which feels more incongruous about the consecutive games he could play at the Wanda Metropolitano Stadium, the Champions League final or Atletico’s La Liga opener against Getafe.

With time at Barnsley and Burnley, Tottenham and Atletico, his career is part Keith Treacy, part Toby Alderweireld. If it is illogical, it is intriguing.

Updated: July 18, 2019 04:41 PM

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