Kieran Trippier is Newcastle United’s greatest-ever right-back. There, I said it! Your immediate reaction might be one of a sweeping statement, and maybe you’re right, but after the week the Bury lad has had, this couldn’t be better timed.
I actually planned to write this after Trippier’s supreme performance against AC Milan in midweek but as I sat on Milan Malpensa Airport floor for five hours waiting for my early morning flight, tiredness got the better of me.
And I’m very glad I stalled because five days later at Bramall Lane, the home of Sheffield United, Trippier followed up his defensively astute display in Milan with a reminder that he’s got one of the best right foots in European football.
And that, in one sentence, is evidence that Trippier is the complete right-back.
When Trippier, the first signing of the new regime, arrived in January last year from Atletico Madrid, I expected him to be good, but not this good, nor this influential. Out of his 60 appearances in black and white thus far, you can pick out countless top-level showings but again, you only have to go as far back as his last two.
Returning to the Champions League after 20 years, Trippier was one of few Newcastle with experience on Europe’s biggest stage, and it certainly showed in the opener versus seven-time winners Milan.
A calming presence throughout, Trippier was imperious in the white-hot environment at the San Siro, although that maybe shouldn’t come as a surprise for a player who’s played for England in a World Cup semi-final and European Championship final whilst learning off arguably the best defensive coach on the continent in Diego Simeone.
“Kieran is a vital part of our defence,” Howe told NewcastleWorld in Milan. “He did very well against a very dangerous opponent. He used his vast experience. I thought that was a real highlight in our back four. His experience and his communication is always strong but it needed to be even more so tonight.”
But for a full-back in the modern era, the defensive side is only half the job. It’s lucky he can do both, eh? You don’t tend to associate your right-back as a ‘playmaker’ but Trippier is absolutely that. He was for United last season and he still is, not just from set pieces but open play as well.
And on an evening where Newcastle made Premier League history by having eight different scorers against Sheffield United, I found it hard to believe Trippier didn’t set a record his own via his three assists.
Howe is usually a person who refrains from making mega statements so it’s very telling that even he admitted Trippier is one of his greatest signings.
“Yes, I think so, twice! Delighted to be able to sign a player of his quality twice in my career,” he said. “Very early on when I signed him at Burnley, his delivery and crossing ability is the best I’ve seen. Whether that’s a static ball from a set play like today or a moving ball like his assist for Callum.
“He sets the tone. His mentality is excellent and his desire to win never stops. That’s why he’s led the team so well.”
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Scrolling through the Magpies’ history books, I can’t think of many better at right-back, not least in my lifetime, although I have to confess I wasn’t around for the days of Fairs Cup winner David Craig or anyone of a similar era.
Craig’s loyalty to Newcastle was incredible - 18 years, 435 appearances and was inducted into the half of fame in 2019. Trippier - who turns 34 next year - sadly won’t be around for half as long but it’s perhaps equally impressive that he’s making such an impression even during the twilight years of his career.
Trippier will perhaps need to help end Newcastle’s 54-year trophy drought to cement himself as the greatest when people look back in years to come but in isolation, his ability, experience, leadership and authority already makes him that.
In a period when Newcastle have quickly transitioned from relegation candidates to European challengers on the journey to becoming (hopefully) one of the world’s most successful clubs, Trippier’s importance shouldn’t ever be overlooked.