Kyle Walker admits Roy Hodgson’s England had no Plan B when things were going wrong against Iceland over the summer – and is the latest player to stress the need for the team to be “streetwise”.
The Three Lions exited Euro 2016 at the last-16 stage in humiliating fashion in June as they were beaten 2-1 – the score from the 18th minute – by Iceland, after which boss Hodgson promptly resigned.
England have since opened their World Cup 2018 qualifying campaign with a 1-0 win in Slovakia overseen by Hodgson’s replacement Sam Allardyce, who then left the job after secretly filmed footage of him making controversial remarks was released by the Daily Telegraph.
Gareth Southgate has subsequently taken over as interim boss, with his first match in charge coming on Saturday when Malta visit Wembley in England’s second Group F fixture.
And when asked ahead of that clash about lessons learned from the Iceland debacle, Tottenham right-back Walker said: “I just think we don’t need to play into their game.
“I thought probably in the summer, that’s what we did and we didn’t really have a different plan.
“It was ‘we are going to play this way’, and if it didn’t work, then we didn’t really know what to do.
“But I feel for the Malta game we have different dimensions now. We have spoken about it in depth – that if something is not working, we need to go to this plan.”
In the build-up to the summer’s tournament, England midfielder Eric Dier – Walker’s team-mate at Spurs as well – had emphasised the importance of the side being “streetwise”.
That echoed the sentiments of captain Wayne Rooney as Hodgson’s men crashed out in the group stages of the 2014 World Cup – and Walker has now made use of the word himself.
“I think the quality in the dressing room is frightening,” Walker, 26, said of the England camp.
“And I think as soon as we just start gelling together and being a bit more – Eric Dier said it – streetwise, it will be a lot more beneficial for England and for us as a group of players.”
One man Walker feels has already shown that in his game is another colleague for both club and country, midfielder Dele Alli.
After winning the PFA Young Player of the Year award last term – as Walker did in 2011-12 – in a fine season with Tottenham, then having a disappointing summer with England, Alli has recently started to find form again.
Walker said of the 20-year-old: “I think it’s a vital year for him.
“I remember when I got the award – to follow it up the next season is what makes you a good player.
“He’s doing it tremendously well. He deals with the weight on his shoulders, taking it in his stride.
“He is an intelligent boy – he is, as we said before, streetwise. I always say he looks like he is playing in the park.
“I think he needs to keep it simple sometimes, which the manager does tell him. But when he does express himself in the final third, you can’t have a go, because more times than not it does come off.”
Walker, Dier and Alli were among five Spurs players in the England squad at Euro 2016, along with Harry Kane and Danny Rose.
Walker ranks their embarrassing exit as the “lowest moment” of his career, and says Tottenham boss Mauricio Pochettino – whose side are currently second in the Premier League – was key in the quintet moving on from that disappointment.
“I got a short break and spent some time with my family, and it kind of takes a little bit of the pain away,” Walker said.
“But it was still in the back of my mind when I got back to Tottenham and the gaffer put his arm around us all and we had a little chat. I think it was a good learning curve for us.
“We pulled together as well. We are a very close bunch of lads.”