The sight of an Englishman ripping up his roots to join La Liga is always an intriguing affair. Back in 2003, David Beckham stole the headlines with a dream move to the Spanish capital, and sixteen years on, another England idol with a ball-bending reputation has done likewise. His name; Kieran Trippier.
This time, it was Atletico Madrid – and not their celebrated city rivals – taking the initiative, after finishing as runners up in the 2018/19 La Liga campaign. Though miles behind champions Barcelona, they were comfortably ahead of Real Madrid by the close, and with a potential ‘power shift’ in the city comes increased muscle in the transfer market.
Thus, with Trippier joining Atletico for just £20m, it is clear that the Rojiblancos pulled off one of the greatest coups of the summer, and utilised their increased ability to pull in talent to an exceptional degree. While Trippier’s differences with now-former manager Mauricio Pochettino were a factor in driving down the price, those of an objective mind cannot deny that the move was a very well-timed one.
Trippier: Hot property in Spain
Atletico signed Trippier at a time when his market value was on the cusp of a drastic rise, which would have spiked within an already upward-bound line had he departed closer to the European transfer window deadline. The catalyst to that process was, undoubtedly, the World Cup of 2018, which saw him emerge as a priceless cog in the team that reached its first semi-final for 28 years.
Said semi-final saw him curl the ball into the net, with accuracy and venom that was highly reminiscent of boyhood idol David Beckham. While it ultimately proved fruitless in the face of Croatia’s devastating fightback, there was no doubt that his personal bar had been set. However, last season saw him fail to reach the level of consistency many expected, as injuries led to uncharacteristic defensive errors.
This made 2018/19 something of an anti-climax following a good 2017/18 season, in which he became first-choice right back at Tottenham following Kyle Walker’s departure to Manchester City. However, his main instinct is to attack – rather than defend – and this was an asset in the Champions League, which rewards attacking endeavour on the road more than it does conservatism.
His greater strength, in building attacks from deep as opposed to conventional defending, was certainly a boosting factor in Tottenham’s unlikely run to the Champions League final. Most notably, his final assist of that European campaign came as part of Tottenham’s watershed 4-3 defeat at Manchester City in the quarter-finals, which was sufficient to see the Lilywhites scrape through on away goals.
A Debut Declassified
Given how 2018/19 went for Trippier, he was not without his sceptics before taking to the field as a La Liga player for the very first time – and neither, for that matter, were his new club.
Though ultimately deserving runners-up in 2018/19, Atlético Madrid ended the campaign winless in three league games, and the knock-on effect can be seen by those that bet on football, with Real Madrid and Barcelona still commanding shorter odds than the Rojiblancos.
Even though Atletico won six of their final seven La Liga fixtures at the Wanda Metropolitano, they still – even in victory – had a reputation as slow starters, with only one of their final five home wins in that run seeing them lead at half-time.
Poetically, it took just 23 minutes for Trippier to silence his critics, and defy the trend of slow starts at the Wanda Metropolitano. His cross for goalscorer Alvaro Morata was one of pure instinct, with the ball circumnavigating a hapless Getafe defence, and has been noted for its similarity to the way Beckham fed greats – such as Ruud van Nistelrooy and Ronaldo – during his own La Liga days.
In being part of a defence that held out to win for a further 70 minutes, Trippier also restored some pride after a defensively dismal final campaign at Tottenham. However, there was much more to Trippier’s performance than the assist and the result it yielded, with Trippier also showing an improved rate of passing accuracy, making a success rate of over 70% in a league that traditionally demands precision passing.
While many people would see La Liga as a far less physical step down from the Premier League, this inherent characteristic can still throw many players from England’s top-flight. Ultimately, while Trippier has ample room for improvement in the passing accuracy stakes, his all-round performance shows very strongly that he can build on that debut.
Given La Liga’s apparent lower emphasis on hard tackling and aerial duels, Trippier has also drawn additional praise for not conceding any fouls on his debut, even though he covered a phenomenal amount of ground and dominated the right flank. While there will be heated moments to come, and some frustrating displays, the key to success for Trippier will ultimately be balance.
Will Trippier’s Medal Haul be Shiny, or ‘Spursy’?
By joining Atletico, Trippier has not only revived his chances of playing to his strengths, but also given himself a personal project that does not drastically differ from the one he set himself at Tottenham.
That project is to ensure a long-term change in the balance of local power, which can act as a launch pad to a greater frequency of trophies. In that regard, his development (and frustrations) at Tottenham makes him well-placed – both physically and mentally – to enact such as project.
While Atletico are a match for Real Madrid or Barcelona under most circumstances, it is the two El Clasico rivals that seem to have a greater pedigree for winning trophies. This mirrors the way that his former club Tottenham are a match for Arsenal and Chelsea, but have – unlike their distinguished London rivals – gone more than ten years without a trophy.
Much like Tottenham throughout the Mauricio Pochettino era, Atletico are also in the process of building a team of a generation. With Joao Felix being a prominent summer signing alongside Trippier, the emphasis is clearly on the future at the Wanda Metropolitano, with the aim of capitalising on a Barcelona squad with an aging core and a Real Madrid squad reeling from a dreadful 2018/19 campaign.
Too Early to Judge?
Promising though Trippier’s La Liga debut was, the real time to judge him is after his Champions League campaign with Atletico gets fully underway. By December, the number of games where he has the energy to roam to the same extent will inevitably dwindle – and that is if he is fortunate enough to stay clear of injury.
There is also the cold, hard fact that few other opponents will grant him the same freedom that Getafe did on the opening weekend, and Trippier will need to embrace his own mortal limits instead of resisting them, to finally get his hands on a winner’s medal for a domestic top flight.