I love Kieran Trippier.
Of all the players in all the positions in all of the world, my heart has settled on a 32-year-old right-back from Bury, which is not something I saw coming.
This requires a bit of context. Did I admire him from afar when he was at Tottenham Hotspur? No. Did I even think about him? Not particularly. When he moved to Atletico Madrid maybe there was a vague feeling of ‘yeah, brave decision’, but he’s a right-back, for God’s sake. He’s not Harry Kane or Jude Bellingham. When I was at school, the shittest players were picked at right-back. Quite often, I was picked at right-back.
Yet I can’t think of many more transformative signings for Newcastle United within my living memory. There was Kevin Keegan’s starting arrival as a player in 1982 which still feels like a dream and which paved the way for Keegan’s starting return as manager 10 years later. In turn, that led to Rob Lee, David Ginola, Alan Shearer and many other glorious footballers, but has anybody made an impact as profound and immediate as Trippier’s?
There have been times, watching games, when I have blurted out loud: I cannot believe Kieran Trippier plays for Newcastle. And, of course, to fully understand that you have to understand the low bar of the Mike Ashley era and the release of its ending, but it was also the leap that Trippier took, swapping Atletico Madrid, where he had just won La Liga, to come to a failing team which was 19th in the Premier League. That for this.
A headline from Spanish newspaper AS following England’s victory over Iran read: “Longing for Trippier.” Sometimes you don’t know what you’ve got… Newcastle do.
I don’t love Trippier because he plays for England, but I love that he, Callum Wilson and Nick Pope make me care a bit more. There have not been many established England internationals to move to Newcastle since Michael Owen in 2005 (for the record, I do not and have never loved him), and you had to wonder whether Tyneside would be the wilderness on which his international aspirations would wither . He wouldn’t be the first.
Instead, our ground is now fertile. Gareth Southgate watched consecutive Newcastle fixtures not too long ago when more than half of Eddie Howe’s team were English; why shouldn’t the national manager be in attendance when the team are third in the table and have the joint-best defensive record in the Premier League? Why shouldn’t Dan Burn and Sean Longstaff, for example, consider themselves worthy candidates for selection?
On that subject, I love Kieran Trippier because Newcastle are third in the table and have the joint-best defense in the Premier League.
I love Trippier because after one of those fixtures, a 4-0 win over Aston Villa, I spoke to him in front of the dug-outs and, still trying to compute the nonsense of Newcastle being in the top four and having the division’s joint best defence, I asked whether any part of him at all – even just the tiniest bit – felt like this was nuts? And I love him because he said, “Not really, no. We’re performing well and we deserve to be where we are.” I love him because he was absolutely right.
But I do like that connection to the England team; pride when Trippier is on the ball, adrenaline when Wilson came on against Iran. In those circumstances, it does mean more, just like it did (for me) in 1986 and 1990, when England were managed by Sir Bobby Robson, who had attended my old infant school at Langley Park, with a thick seam of north-east talent in Peter Beardsley, Chris Waddle, Paul Gascoigne, Bryan Robson. Like Shearer at the Euros in 1996.
Although Trippier doesn’t come from here, I love him because he makes England feel slightly more like here. He gives a relevance and a buy-in and a belonging that doesn’t always come naturally.
I can’t recall what I thought when Southgate picked this “defensive animal,” at left-back in England’s opening game against Croatia in last year’s European Championship finals, but I’ve read back through some of the comments from when The Athletic revealed that decision on Twitter.
“Deserves instant sacking if this happens.”
“Did Southgate hit his head or what?”
“It would appear that it’s no longer coming home.”
And yes, yes, granted there are issues with injury and fitness now, but I love that England very recently seemed to be collecting all the right-backs in the world – “We could almost make a starting XI,” Trippier said with a laugh – but at the end of it all, Newcastle’s No 2 is his country’s first choice.
I loved reading this tactical piece from Michael Cox on why England’s fullbacks were so important against Iran.
I love Trippier for being prepared to jeopardise all this, for saying adios to the Champions League and alreet to a relegation battle in the knowledge that it might cost him his England place. I love his attitude. “I’m not scared to throw myself into the deep end,” he says.
And I love him for not even thinking that way: “Just because I’ve come to Newcastle, it doesn’t change anything and it doesn’t change my mindset to keep pushing myself and my team. I know I need to perform well and I would do that whether I was at Atletico or Newcastle. I believe in myself and I will never give up on England. Never.”
I love that Trippier was Newcastle’s first transfer post-takeover and, in the words of Shearer, “an embodiment of where they want to go but grounded in the mucky business of now”.
I love that he didn’t bother with a relegation clause (the same goes for Bruno Guimaraes). “That was so refreshing,” Eddie Howe told The Athletic. “Getting the right characters in like that, people who just wanted to fight and had no way out, is so powerful.”
I love that in his first game for the club, an awful, demoralizing FA Cup defeat to Cambridge United the day after he arrived, Trippier was the one cajoling his team-mates back onto the pitch to acknowledge Newcastle fans.
I love a tiny, trivial memory from another of Trippier’s early games (maybe Watford in the league), when a high, cross-field ball was floated in his direction and my gaze followed what should have been its natural trajectory and then doubled back because he’d actually controlled it. He controlled it!
I love Trippier because he’s captain without actually needing to be captain.
Trippier running over to Lascelles to put the Captain’s armband on him as he came on says everything about the team spirit in this group, and the leadership qualities of Trippier. #NUFC pic.twitter.com/UUAdM2hDi0
—Toon Polls (@ToonPolls) October 29, 2022
I love that I stuck him in my Fantasy Football team at the start of the season.
🔝 @NUFC now have the highest-scoring:
🔘 Goalkeeper – Nick Pope (70 pts)
🔘 Defender – Kieran Trippier (96 pts)
🔘 Midfielder – Miguel Almiron (93 pts)
— Fantasy Premier League (@OfficialFPL) November 14, 2022
Fantasy Premier League: Newcastle players are must-own – but which trio to sign?
I love that he keeps in touch with his PE teacher from Woodhey High School and got him tickets to watch Atletico not long before he left.
I love that Trippier told Shearer, “I know where I come from,” and that his parents are “still in their old council house – I’ve told them loads of times I’d help them move, but they don’t want to.” On days off at Newcastle, he will visit them there. “It’s always good to wake up to your mum’s breakfast!” he said.
I love that his mum and dad erected an England flag on a 25-foot pole during the Euros, earning a fine from Bury Council (which Trippier says he paid).
I really didn’t mind this free-kick against Manchester City at all. And I love that Newcastle now have somebody who can actually deliver from dead-balls. “He’s quality – you see it every time we get a set-piece, or every single time he gets the ball,” Dan Burn told The Athletic.
I love that when Trippier suffered a foot injury not long after joining Newcastle, he carried on traveling with the team to give them his support. And I loved his response when Gabby Agbonlahor dismissed that as “silly. You’ve got an injury, you’re on crutches, you should be at home with your feet up to rest.”
—Kieran Trippier (@trippier2) March 11, 2022
But I really love it when Trippier plays and starts because he so clearly makes Newcastle better in every way, even during a spell when they’ve been pretty decent.
Newcastle, with and without Trippier
|Metric||When Trippier starts||When Trippier doesn’t start|
Points per game
Goals for per 90
Goals against p90
I love that he plays behind Miguel Almiron, Newcastle’s goal machine and most-improved player this season and I understand that those things are not a coincidence. “He has a great relationship with Miggy,” Burn says. “You can see why he’s a constant England international because he’s just lifted standards at this club.”
I love it that Newcastle might get to watch and appreciate him beyond the span of his two-and-a-half year contact and I’m pleased that his contribution is recognized internally. “Kieran isn’t someone we’ll ever sell,” Amanda Staveley, one of the club’s co-owners, told The Athletic earlier this year. “I’ve said to him, ‘You’re with us and that’s it. You can be our Alan Shearer. You’ll be a standard bearer for Newcastle for many years to come’.”
I love Trippier because he can be at Newcastle and by his own admission still be “playing the best football of my career,” and I love how giddy that feels.
I feel a bit embarrassed about telling Trippier after a recent match how good and important he’d been and that I hoped he understood it. I love him for smiling and laughing and saying ‘cheers mate’ and explaining how he’d felt settled from day one, that the atmosphere around the stadium was as good as anything he’d known. I love that he gets it.
I love that football can do this. I love the strangeness of players being tolerated at one club and adored somewhere else, how they can both be totally wrong and the perfect fit over the course of a career, depending on timing and circumstances. I love that it can still make me fall in love with a 32-year-old right-back, who is an embodiment of such un-flashy qualities as effort, drive and dedication. Who embraced risk and gives his all and is still determined to get better.
Mostly, I love Kieran Tripper because he’s so very bloody good.
(Top photo: Lindsey Parnaby/AFP via Getty Images)