Football News

“I don’t remember him losing a single duel” — Jose Mourinho names his Euro 2020 Player of the Tournament

By Ben Green

Published: 16:59, 12 July 2021

Jose Mourinho has named his Player of the Tournament for Euro 2020, believing Kyle Walker was the standout star.

Walker, 31, started in every game for England at the Euros except for the goalless draw with Scotland, slotting in at right-back and occasionally centre-back, including the final against Italy as he formed an impressive shield with Harry Maguire and John Stones.

It wasn’t to be in the end for the Manchester City defender, as Italy brought home the trophy after a tense penalty shootout triumph, with the showpiece being decided from 12 yards after a back and forth 1-1 at Wembley, with goals from Luke Shaw and Leonardo Bonucci.

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Walker, who finished the tournament having won possession in the defensive third more than any other England player (20), once again impressed despite the result, bringing a turbo-charged and high-octane energy to Gareth Southgate’s backline.

Such was the Yorkshireman’s form during the multi-host tournament that Mourinho was quick to recognise his exploits, believing Walker was the standout player of Euro 2020, labelling him “an absolute animal”.

“I think Kyle Walker was phenomenal,” Mourinho told talkSPORT when asked to name his Player of the Tournament.

“From the first minute of the competition until the moment he came off in the final he was phenomenal.

“He was giving cover to centre-backs on the opposite side. I don’t remember him losing one single duel. He didn’t go forward as much as he does in the club because of a strategy point of view.

“When I call a player an animal it is the best compliment I can do to a player. Kyle Walker – an absolute animal. For me, phenomenal. From the first to the last minute he was in that element.”

Walker at Euro 2020

Walker brought a strong blend of qualities to Southgate’s backline, playing progressive balls, but also reading the game well, with the Man City defender completed the third-most interceptions (eight) among his England team-mates, while coupling that with the second-most completed passes into the final third (66).

He often functioned as a quasi-libero as well, with his ability to sprint back and regain possession one of his standout traits. The Three Lions could often play with a bit more freedom and fluidity safe in the knowledge that Walker has an almost unrivalled ability to recover, underpinned by the fact he finished the competition as one of just five full-backs to win possession back in the defensive third at least 20 times.

His role under Southgate, as Mourinho alluded to, was almost completely at odds to his function under Pep Guardiola at the Etihad. Walker was almost tasked solely with shoring up the backline, rather than buccaneering forward in his typical fashion at club level.

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Incredibly, Walker finished the tournament having attempted just the single take-on in nearly 600 minutes of action, creating just two chances in the process and not registering a single shot. Luke Shaw, by contrast, on the opposite flank finished the tournament as England’s chief playmaker, with 10 chances created.

The move proved a masterstroke in the end for Southgate as England kept five successive clean sheets and conceded just one goal from open play across the entire tournament, with his more pragmatic and cautious approach working wonders to guide the nation to the final.