Kieran Trippier runs through some of his training-session opponents and there are notes of admiration and exasperation. “When you are a defender up against Sancho or Rashford, Foden, Grealish, Calvert-Lewin … you can imagine it’s tough,” the England full-back says. “Bukayo [Saka] ran past me the other day and I felt like grabbing him. ‘Where are you going?!’”
Trippier focuses on the younger guns in the England attack but there are the bigger beasts, too – Messrs Kane and Sterling – and, all in all, it has made for quite the proving ground. Pretty relentless at times? Surely. Yet it is only fuel for Trippier, the player Gareth Southgate calls his “warrior”, and here is the thing. With internal competition so high, Trippier says there has been nothing on the outside at Euro 2020 to make him or his colleagues lose sleep.
It is a big reason why England approach Wednesday’s semi-final against Denmark at Wembley with a flawless defensive record – five matches, five clean sheets – and the growing feeling that this could finally be their year.
“We have so much talent and when you train against these players every day … when you get on the pitch against the opposition, because the players we’ve got are world class, you are ready,” Trippier says. “When you train against these guys every day there are no fears.”
Trippier, who has started two of England’s games – at left-back against Croatia and right wing-back against Germany – has learned a thing or two about defending under Diego Simeone at Atlético Madrid, the club he joined from Tottenham in the summer of 2019. Atlético played a more front-foot style this season, which finished with them winning La Liga, with Trippier regularly pinned high on the right flank for the first out-ball forward.
But Trippier makes the point very clearly. He has been focused more on the defensive side and, for Simeone, it is what is fundamental. “Simeone makes sure you defend first and foremost – if not, you will know about it in the dressing room,” Trippier says.
Simeone has worked extensively with him on the one-on-one stuff, on positioning, body shape, the awareness of when to go forward and when to hold and, similarly, Trippier enjoys Southgate’s attention to the defensive detail.
“Gareth and the staff work so hard behind the scenes to set us up as a team,” Trippier says. “We do a lot of defensive work in training – three v two actions, or six v four … where you are stopping crosses and your positioning is right. We’ve worked really hard on it.”
At 30, Trippier is one of the squad’s elder statesmen and he is happy to impart his experience on to the younger players; to encourage them “just to enjoy themselves”. It is plain that his confidence and steely mentality have been further hardened by his winning of a first trophy.
“It’s been an unbelievable season and it motivates me to win more, even at my age,” Trippier says. “Coming away with England, it gives me real confidence and maybe I can share that experience with others who have not won things. Then again, we have players who are winning trophies with their clubs now and they all have that winning mentality.”
Why is Trippier such a warrior? Because, he explains, he has had to overcome so many obstacles. He did not make the first-team grade as a young player at Manchester City and, even more recently, he mentions missing out on the England squad for the Nations League finals in 2019 and how “people said it was a mistake to play abroad”, specifically in terms of his international prospects. “I’m one of those people who likes to go in at the deep end,” he adds.
Trippier’s single-mindedness is evident when transfer talk is brought up. He is understood to be open to a return to England, with Manchester United among the clubs linked to him.
“I’ve just enjoyed the season [at Atlético] and we’ve won the title,” he says. “I’m away with England, we’re playing Denmark and I’m not focusing on my club or what is going on. I’m just focused on England and doing as best as I can if I play. If I don’t play, I still give 100%.”
What shines through is Trippier’s assurance, how relaxed he is before such a seismic tie. Perhaps it is because he has been here before; he is a veteran of the 2018 World Cup semi-final against Croatia when he scored that early free-kick only for England to lose 2-1.
“I don’t get nervous before games,” Trippier says. “Even in the semi-final against Croatia, I wasn’t nervous. It’s more that I can’t wait to get going. There’s no regrets from 2018 and I think we’ve taken a step forward from then. We’re in a position where we just want to create our own history.”
It will be emotional, particularly when Harry Kane presents an England shirt signed by the players with ‘Eriksen 10’ on its back to the Danes before kick-off. Trippier played at Spurs with Christian Eriksen, who is recovering from the cardiac arrest suffered during Denmark’s opening tie against Finland.
“You know,” Trippier says, pausing, a little overcome. “It’s hard to put into words because I’ve played with him; I was close with Christian. It’s just important that he is here with us. I messaged him, not straight away, and it’s private what he said. We just want him to make progress in his recovery.”