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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - LONDON: English football player Kyle Walker says Manchester City are a step away from invincibility and matching football’s greatest sides.
Having won the Premier League and FA Cup, Pep Guardiola’s team will seal a treble if they beat Inter Milan in Saturday’s Champions League final.
Only Manchester United, back in 1999 under Sir Alex Ferguson, have ever achieved that feat among English clubs.
Walker says United and Arsenal — who went through the entire 2003-04 Premier League season unbeaten and were known as the Invincibles — are the standard-bearers in the modern era for the best English clubs.
Now, he hopes City will confirm their status among them with success in Istanbul.
“I think that United team, along with the Invincibles, is probably up there with the best Premier League teams of all time,” said Walker, who joined City from Tottenham Hotspur in 2017 for £50 million ($62 million).
“(United) have got the big Champions League trophy that we can never say we have got.”
Inter Milan, he added, also “need to be considered as a great team.”
While City have enjoyed domestic success — they have now won five of the last six Premier League titles — they crave European glory.
But Walker, 33, added: “It doesn’t define what this squad has achieved over the last six years. It doesn’t define us if we go on and win this or not.
“It helps massively to say that we can be put in that category of probably one of the best Premier League teams of all time, but we don’t win five Premier Leagues in six years if we are not a good team.
“We … know we are a good team, but to be recognized globally as one of the best teams, you need to win the Champions League.
“We are not beating around the bush with that; we know this is now a great opportunity. We have a second chance definitely with Pep and the group of players who have stayed around, and we need to put right the wrongs we did against Chelsea.”
That 1-0 defeat to Chelsea came in the 2021 Champions League final in Porto, where City were below par.
Walker, John Stones and Phil Foden then went on to lose the European Championship final with England against Italy at Wembley to cap a painful period for club and country.
“I didn’t really have much time to get over the 2021 final as I had to tune back into England and go and compete in a tournament for my country,” he added.
“It was hard seeing all the Chelsea boys there. You say congratulations to them because they are your teammates now, but it was tough.
“Then I experienced a loss against Italy in the final and I had to pick myself up again and get ready for the season.”
Walker says it is part and parcel of football to experience such disappointment.
“I don’t think any great team goes straight to the final and wins it,” he said. “I think you always have to go through setbacks … Hopefully big things are around the corner.”
Walker has endured a frustrating season with injuries forcing him on the sidelines and then Guardiola preferring Stones, Manuel Akanji and teenager Rico Lewis in the right-sided position, where players have moved into midfield during games.
The City boss felt Walker was not capable of playing that role, saying he did not have the “educated movements” of Stones.
While the criticism hurt, the defender said he did not let it affect him, and he has responded with impressive displays to be a starter again.
“No, it’s his opinion,” said Walker. “He’s my manager and I have to listen to him. If his opinion is right or wrong — it’s not my decision.
“He’s the boss of this club and makes the decision of who goes onto the field, and I have to accept that, right or wrong, get my head down, do my extra work in the gym, make sure I am putting in performances on the training field so when I am called upon, he’s not saying, ‘That’s why I was dropping you, because you are not playing well.’
“When I have got the chance, I have tried to do what I do, play good football and defend well, and hopefully that will give him the confidence to carry on picking me in the big games.
“I wasn’t playing at the start of the season, but things change in football.”
Walker’s upbringing has helped him cope with setbacks. He grew up on a Sheffield estate where he witnessed a fatal arson attack and the dead body of a person who had committed suicide next to his front door.
“When I say certain things about it, people look at me thinking, ‘What actually happened?’, but that was my upbringing,” he said. “It has channeled me into this path where I am now. Do I think I can overcome certain things when the going gets tough, can I stand my heels in the ground and then keep moving? I think I can do that.
“That is just the way I have been brought up, especially in England where people bring (you) up to pull you back down.”
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