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You might have thought Kyle Walker would pick out an exotic footballing hero.
A flying wing-back, like Cafu or Roberto Carlos. A ball-playing superstar - maybe Zinedine Zidane. Or, if you are talking English, then possibly Gary Lineker or Gazza.
No. Not when you were born and raised in Sheffield, the heart of white rose county - especially if you regard Bramall Lane as a footballing shrine.
So, when the Tottenham defender was asked to name his inspiration, he promptly revealed it is the man he is likely to be playing alongside for England against San Marino on Friday.
Walker said: "I'm a Sheffield United boy, so it was Brian Deane when I started to support them. But then when I fell back into defence it was Phil Jagielka. He was a hero of mine.
"I remember one game, when he scored against Leeds in the League Cup. He took it down on his chest and volleyed it from 25 yards and it went into the corner - I was jumping up and down in the Family Stand.
"A few years later [December 2006], when he went in goal for the last half-hour and kept out Arsenal [United won 1-0], I was the ball-boy behind the net - and he kept on telling me to slow down!
"I've seen some sights with him, so to come here and play with him, to sit with him and eat is an honour for me.
"Having dinner with him is pretty good, let alone playing with him. Sometimes he tries to get me some soup and I say to him, 'You can't be doing that, let me get you some soup'.
"But I've never told him he was a hero - so don't make his head too big!"
Walker is likely to have his own cast-list of young fans soon, as he's a fixture in the Tottenham team after loan spells at QPR and Aston Villa got him ready for the call, first from Harry Redknapp and now Andre Villas-Boas.
Only an end-of-season toe injury ruled him out of Roy Hodgson's Euro 2012 squad.
Although Glen Johnson grabbed the opportunity with both hands, the Liverpool right-back's suspension does give Walker a long-awaited chance of a first competitive start, and fourth cap, on Friday.
Walker, who admitted he was left "star-struck" by his brush with Royalty during the opening of England's St George's Park complex, added: "From the age of seven, this is what I wanted to do, play for my country, so who wouldn't be excited?
"I feel I've been patient and waited for my chance, although I know I've done nothing, really. I'm 22. I've done absolutely nothing in my career so far.
"Last season went well. I won the PFA Young Player award but that's just the start. I want to go on. I'm young and I want to improve, to become the best I can be.
"I think working with Gary Neville at England is helping me massively and that my defending is improving every timer, every week.
"It's about experience and learning off people like him, Joleon Lescott and Phil.
"I know decision-making has to be key. There is club level and a step up to international level and you have to be even more precise. But I just want to keep learning and doing what I'm doing."
And as for that first competitive start, Walker said: "I just want to win. I don't care if it's 10-0, 20-0 or 1-0. It's three points. I enjoy winning, I hate losing and drawing. Especially for my country.
"I want to win every game I participate in."
Everton are to give a trial to former Arsenal goalkeeper Alex Manninger.
The Austrian stopper, 35, is currently a free agent after being released by Juventus at the end of last season.
Manninger made 39 Premier League appearances for Arsenal before signing a permanent deal with Espanyol in 2002.
David Moyes's concerns over the strength of Everton's central midfield have been realised with Marouane Fellaini joining Darron Gibson on the sidelines with a knee injury.
The influential Belgian has been ruled out of the forthcoming World Cup qualifiers against Serbia and Scotland with an injury sustained at Wigan Athletic, and will also miss Everton's trip to Queens Park Rangers after the international break. Fellaini's prospects of facing Liverpool on 28 October rest on his response to treatment over the next fortnight.
The Belgian FA had stated the 24-year-old would be out for three weeks but Everton have not placed a timeframe on the recovery.
A statement from the Belgian FA read: "Fellaini suffered a small tear at the juncture of muscle and tendon in the knee. The injury was revealed during a scan. Fellaini was injured last Saturday during the match between his club Everton and Wigan Athletic. He will be out three weeks. It has been agreed with his club that he will rehabilitate in Belgium during this period."
Fellaini has been deployed in a more advanced role this season by Moyes but his absence, if only for the QPR game, underlines the manager's fear that central midfield could hinder Everton's prospects of competing for Champions League qualification.
The Everton manager has used Phil Neville and Leon Osman as his midfield pairing in recent weeks with the thigh injury Gibson suffered at West Bromwich Albion on 1 September proving more serious than initially thought. Moyes had hoped the Republic of Ireland international would be out for three weeks but, with the Merseyside derby a possible comeback date, has been almost two months without the 24-year-old.
Moyes attempted to sign the Belgian midfielder Vadis Odjidja-Ofoe on loan from Club Brugge on deadline day, only for Fifa to rule the paperwork had not been completed on time, and voiced concerns over his options only last week. "We are still short of central midfield players and, if you're talking about a squad to compete at the top end of the Premier League, I'm worried we are not going to have that level," he said.
The former Aston Villa midfielder Thomas Hitzlsperger has been training with Everton for several weeks with a view to a short-term contract and played for the under-21s at Norwich City on Monday.
Kyle Walker has spent his week feeling star-struck. There was the slightly awkward moment when the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge strode across the pristine playing surface on the elite practice pitch at St George's Park to meet the England squad and, in his own words, "a boy from Sheffield shook hands with royalty". The small talk might have felt rather contrived, but at least that fleeting set-piece for the cameras had been stage-managed. It is actually the boyhood hero with whom Walker now rubs shoulders who leaves him tongue-tied.
The Tottenham Hotspur full-back's obsession with Phil Jagielka was forged in the Steel City. It dates from the days when Walker sat in the stands at Bramall Lane and chorused the home player's name with the rest of the Sheffield United faithful, the youngster who was then making his name under Neil Warnock hoisted to iconic status by a half-volleyed injury-time equaliser from 35 yards against Terry Venables's Leeds in a League Cup tie a decade ago. These days the pair are England team-mates expected to line up alongside each other against San Marino on Friday. Walker may regret his honesty, and the veneration apparently never extended to tacking a poster of his hero to his bedroom wall, but his secret is still out.
"I'm a Sheffield United boy so, growing up, it was Brian Deane and then, when I fell back into defence, it was Phil," he said. "He was a hero of mine. I was jumping up and down in the Family stand, where they put the youth team, when he scored that goal against Leeds. He took it down on his chest, half-volleyed it and it's flown in. And I was the ball boy behind the net when he went in goal [against Arsenal in a Premier League fixture in December 2006 which the hosts won 1-0]. He kept telling me to slow down when I was retrieving the ball. So I have seen some sights with him.
"He was at the club when they went up to the Premiership and I signed my scholarship, but he moved on to Everton just as I was coming through. I've never told him he was a hero of mine, so don't make his head too big, but to come here and play with him, to sit with and eat with him is an honour. Sometimes he tries to get me a bowl of soup at dinner and I have to say to him: 'You can't be doing that. Let me get you some soup.' Just sitting next to him having dinner's pretty good."
The respect feels quirky, if also refreshing: a case of a club's youth-team product having inspired those graduates still working their way up a productive system with the Blades. And yet it does also offer an indication of progression within the England set-up. Walker will earn his first competitive cap against San Marino in the absence of the suspended Glen Johnson, and will have the opportunity to stake a claim to retain his place for Tuesday's far more daunting trip to Poland. The Spurs right-back's form is impressive at club level, a galloping presence going forward who, like most young full-backs in the Premier League, is admittedly still seeking to add to his defensive game. That assurance, hopefully, will come with experience.
But, having missed out on a place at Euro 2012 with a toe injury, Walker is now established as direct competition for Johnson, ahead of Micah Richards and with Chris Smalling and Phil Jones – who have both featured for England at right-back even if they are centre-halves at heart – now injured. San Marino will offer little threat and will be vulnerable to his raids down the flank. This is a chance to impose himself in an anticipated mismatch, even if his own assessment of relatively rapid progress – Kyle Naughton, with whom he was transferred to White Hart Lane for a joint deal worth around £9m, was supposed to been the immediate "contender" of the pair – remains realistic.
"I've done nothing: I'm 22 and I've done absolutely nothing in my career so far," he said. "I had a good last season, winning young player of the year, but that's just the start and, hopefully, I can go on. I'm young. I want to improve. I want to become the best I can be. Gary Neville is here on the coaching staff, a player I looked up to and watched often in the past, and someone who gives me tips. I'm excited to be working with him and playing with the players I am.
"My defending is improving every week. It's just about experience and learning off the likes of Joleon Lescott, Phil Jagielka and Gary Cahill. Glen Johnson is a world-class right-back, someone I've got a lot to do [to displace], but hopefully my time will come. I have to be patient. And then there's Ashley [Cole]. To have nearly 100 caps, he must be doing something right so you try and be a sponge, pick up on what he's doing and take it into your own game. Watching him play, seeing what he has achieved … that's what I want to achieve, too."
That his first competitive opportunity should come in what should prove an uncompetitive qualifier does not detract from the sense of occasion. San Marino may have lost 108 of their 114 games, a team out of its depth on this stage, but Walker cannot see past a cap and his chance to impress. "Who wouldn't be excited? From the age of seven, this is what I've wanted to do: play for my country. I don't treat games any differently, whether it's Manchester United, Real Madrid or San Marino. We have to show them respect and do the job, not showboat and show off."
Heaven forbid Jagielka attempts an early step-over. The full-back at his side might offer up a tongue lashing, childhood idol or not.
MAROUANE FELLAINI faces a battle to be fit for the Merseyside derby at the end of the month after suffering a knee injury.
The Everton midfielder will miss Belgium’s World Cup qualifiers with Serbia and Scotland after a scan revealed a small tear “at the juncture of muscle and tendon in the knee”.
He sustained the injury in Everton’s 2-2 draw with Wigan on Saturday and may struggle to make the showdown with Liverpool at Goodison Park on October 28.
KYLE WALKER has been having a ‘souper’ time with England – because his hero offered to wait on him at dinner.
Phil Jagielka was the player Tottenham star Walker idolised as a kid growing up in Yorkshire.
Following his promotion to Roy Hodgson’s squad, Walker has been able to rub shoulders with former Sheffield United ace Jagielka, much to his embarrassment.
“I’m Shefffield United, so he was a hero of mine,” said Walker, who joined Spurs from the Blades in 2009.
“I remember when he scored a last-minute equaliser against Leeds in the League Cup (in 2002), I was jumping up and down in the stands, where they put all the youth players.
“We’ve spoken about me being there when he scored that goal. He brought it down on his chest and volleyed in from the halfway line.
“And I was the ball boy in that game in 2006 when he went in goal against Arsenal and kept them out for half an hour for a 1-0 win.
“I was behind his net, and he kept on telling me to slow down. I’ve seen some sights with him!
“So to come here and play with him, sit and eat dinner with him, is an honour.
“Sometimes he tries to go and get some soup for me and I say to him, ‘You can’t be getting me that. Let me get you some soup!’
“We have a different relationship, but it’s great.
“We never played in the same team.
“When Sheffield United got promoted to the Premier League I got my scholarship, but when we were relegated he went to Everton and that’s when I started coming into the team.
“It would be great to play alongside him for England, but just sitting next to him, having dinner, is good for me.
“I’ve still not told him he’s my hero, but I guess he’ll find out now. I hope his head doesn’t grow too big!”
Having grown up dreaming of Jags, Walker became a pro himself, with all the riches and fast cars that go with it.
But with his Yorkshire grit, he seems to have kept his feet on the ground, eagerly anticipating playing again for his country.
He looks certain to be selected at right-back against World Cup qualifying minnows San Marino tomorrow, with Liverpool’s Glen Johnson suspended.
“Who wouldn’t be excited?” Walker added.
“From the age of seven it is what I have wanted to do, play for my country. I have got three caps now but none of them in a competitive game.”
If he needed reminding of what it takes to be a true England legend, he could look at the two photos on the wall of his room in the hotel at the FA’s new £105m St George’s Park complex in Burton.
“I’ve got a picture of David Beckham and one of Michael Owen scoring in the World Cup in France in my room,” he said.
“My first England memory was Becks scoring in that World Cup in 1998. I was eight then so can just about remember. I’m 22, but I’ve done absolutely nothing in my career so far.
“I had a good last season, winning the young player and a few more awards, but that’s just the start and hopefully I can go on.
“I’m young, I want to improve. I want to become the best I can be.
“Gary Neville here, a player I look up to and watch often, gives me tips and coaches me through and he has helped me massively.”
Walker has also been given a taste of how easily a player’s career can suffer a major setback.
He missed out on going to this summer’s European Championship in Poland and Ukraine due to an injury suffered during Spurs’ last game.
“At the end of the season it was a disappointment, having worked so hard to get into the England team, to have that little niggle on my toe,” he added.
“It was a massive learning curve for me and one I will take to the future in case it happens again.
“And it was fantastic the England manager gave me the phone call, saying it was sad he couldn’t take me there but that I was in his plans and he had belief in me.”
THOMAS HITZLSPERGER’S hopes of securing an Everton FC move have improved as David Moyes comes to terms with his injury-hit midfield options.
The 30-year-old former German international has been training with the Blues for the last few weeks in a bid to land a contract after being released by Wolfsburg in the summer. Hitzlsperger impressed during his first competitive outing at Everton on Monday, when he helped Alan Stubbs’ u-21s side to a 2-0 win over Norwich at Carrow Road.
And by lasting for 90 minutes against the Canaries in his first game since injury, the former Aston Villa player will have given Moyes pause for thought as he weighs up whether he can stay fit long enough to earn a short-term deal.
Moyes has previously said he is in no rush to decide whether to offer Hitzlsperger a contract, but Darron Gibson’s ongoing absence with a thigh injury, and the knee problem suffered by Marouane Fellaini could hasten the process.
Gibson will require more intensive treatment before Moyes knows whether he will be available for Everton’s next game against QPR on October 21, and Fellaini could even be a doubt for the Merseyside derby the following week after being ruled out of Belgium’s forthcoming World Cup qualifiers.
Fellaini picked up a knock during the 2-2 draw with Wigan last weekend and although he managed to complete the game, the severity of his injury only became apparent 48 hours later.
He had the injury scanned in Belgium, and the Blues medical team have reviewed his scans and will assess him fully when he returns to Finch Farm on Monday.
With Ross Barkley on loan at Sheffield Wednesday, Moyes’ senior options are limited to Phil Neville and Leon Osman, so the Blues boss will be pleased that Hizlsperger has impressed Stubbs.
“I thought Thomas did well and you could see that he’s experienced and has a calmness about him when he has the ball,” said Stubbs. “It was his first game coming back (from injury), so it would have been a great boost to him coming through without a problem.
“He probably played longer than what we expected him to but because of injuries we ended up using all of our subs. I’m really pleased for Thomas because his attitude has been fantastic.”
Speaking ahead of the game against Southampton, Moyes had said: “He is enjoying doing the football work and we can maybe look at stepping his work up next week. There will be no quick news or signing on this.”
EVERTONIANS have the chance to score a Goodison Park hat-trick with a special offer on tickets to three upcoming home games.
ŠBlues fans can attend the matches against Sunderland (10 November), Norwich (24 November) and Arsenal (28 November) for a combined price of £90 for adults.
That figure drops to £60 for over-65s and a bargain £45 for kids – representing savings of up to £15.
HE is best known for the celebrated role he played in making Everton one of Europe’s finest teams in the 80s – but Graeme Sharp knows the pressures of top flight sport can take their toll.
The Blues legend took part in a question and answer session this week discussing the mental health issues and pressures he experienced during his playing days as part of World Mental Health Day yesterday.
Sharp went to Wavertree Tennis Centre to meet players from the ‘Imagine Your Goals’ programme co-ordinated by Everton’s official charity and the Merseycare NHS Trust.
World Mental Health Day (October 10) is an internationally recognised event held each year to raise awareness of mental health issues and tackle the stigma and discrimination often associated with them.
"I think it is very important that everyone understands that mental health is just as significant as keeping your body in check,” said Sharp.
“Anyone can experience mental health problems such as depression, stress or anxiety. Feeling low is not uncommon but it is how you deal with it that counts and being able to talk things through with someone is sometimes all it takes.”
For more information about Imagine Your Goals, contact Everton in the Community on 0151 530 5253 or visit evertonfc.com/community.
EVERTON’S U-18s side has been making great strides after a difficult start to life in the new Professional Development League One.
Coach Neil Dewsnip, who has been deputising for Kevin Sheedy as the former Blues legend recovers from bowel cancer, has helped his young side improve quickly after initially struggling in their opening games against older, more physical players.
Everton’s small first team squad has a trickle down effect on the club’s other sides, with promising reserve players often being called up by David Moyes, and in turn several U18s players being needed by second-string coach Alan Stubbs.
That has left Dewsnip without some of his older personnel, but in response the experienced coach has blooded a quartet of promising 15-year-olds who have shown plenty of potential.
Ryan Ledson, Joe Williams, Jonjo Kenny and Harry Charlsey have all caught the eye with displays that bode well for the future.
“They have done themselves proud and the team has played very well in each of our seven games so far even though we haven’t had the best results,” says Dewsnip. “Younger players get their chance with us and we see that as a positive thing.”
The quartet shone in last weekend’s 4-2 victory over Norwich, and next up is Arsenal at Finch Farm.