Kyle Walker is desperate to help this talented England side win “the biggest prize of all” after returning from injury just in time to go to the World Cup.
A regular starter at the last three majors, it looked like the 32-year-old might be watching the Qatar tournament from afar due to a persistent groin complaint.
Steady at the start of September when Manchester City played Aston Villa, Walker made it worse in England’s game against Germany, and the derby with Manchester United on 3 October proved to be “the final straw”.
“It was a tear in my groin,” the 70-cap full-back said. “I got four hooks in my groin and had three repairs but it’s going fantastically well. I’m really happy with it.
“Everyone seems to be happy with it, we’ve been in close contact with the surgeon, with the medics at City and here as well. I just have to say a big thank you to everyone for giving me this opportunity to really be here.”
The rehab is a bit of an unknown given that Walker has largely avoided injury during a career that has been fueled by a “never be beaten” philosophy.
“That was my life,” he said. “Everyone in some way, shape or form writes me off or says certain things.
“When I signed for Man City it was ‘I can’t believe they paid that much for a full-back’, X, Y and Z. It gives me that motivation to go and prove people wrong.
“Again, I have to think about myself first and make sure my body is fine and can handle it and secondly, it’s proving people wrong, which I like to do.”
Walker says he is driven to succeed for himself and those close to him, rather than proving people wrong, and believes some tough times growing up in Sheffield helped shape him.
The right-back said that where he grew up “you had to survive” and stunned reporters when he spoke of the worst things he had seen.
“The fire (at a neighbor’s house) was bad or someone was hanging on the stairs I was going up,” he said. “Those two are probably stuck in my mind.”
Walker was 12 or 13 at the time and did not see the body as police had cordoned off the area next to his house, but he witnessed the arson that claimed his life.
“Someone just threw gasoline through the door … and threw a match and that was it,” he said. “The children came out. The guards caught them on some blankets. The mother threw them away. The mother was a large lady and could not go out.
Walker’s voice trailed off as he recalled the kind of horrors he said no one should have to go through but made him the man he is today.
“I think your path is written for you to experience certain things in life that I had to go through,” he said. “Some setbacks, certain doubts and highs too, which I achieved at Manchester City.
“I feel like your path is written for you and what will be will be.”
I feel your path is written for you and what will be will be
This time, he hopes, will lead this group to become the first England men’s team since Sir Alf Ramsey’s 1966 World Cup heroics to win a major trophy.
“To win this is the biggest prize of all,” Walker said as England look to build on a 6-2 win against Iran by beating the United States on Friday.
“No English team has done it since 1966, so to win this World Cup would mean the world to any of us.
“We don’t just do it for the 26-strong team and the staff who help us on a daily basis.
“We’re doing this for you guys and the fans who have traveled and spent their hard-earned money to come home here and hopefully when we come back we’ve done it for everyone there.
“This is a nation. We do it for the nation. We’re just part of it.”
Walker says England have “earned the right to have more expectations” with recent tournament performances and certainly believes in his team-mates, whose international qualities he heaped praise on.
“Well I think you see the likes of Phil Foden, Mason Mount, Jack Grealish, Declan Rice,” he said.
“These players are not like what we’ve seen growing up from the England team, where it’s about wearing your heart on your sleeve, going out and your hard work gets you through the games.
“Obviously that’s no disrespect to any of the players – Wayne Rooney, Joe Cole, David Beckham…those players had a range of talent but probably not as much talent as the ones they have.
“It’s a joy that the English game is actually developing in this way.”