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Pep Guardiola is proud and full of praise when it comes to ManCity’s golden duo

Kyle Walker and Kalvin Phillips face a race to be fit for the World Cup.

 

Players missing international tournaments through injury is nothing new, but the winter scheduling of this year’s FIFA World Cup come at precisely the wrong time for a number of players.

 

The June/July slot that the tournament usually occupies at least gives players a few weeks to recover after the end of their domestic seasons. This time round though, Premier League players will have just a few days before flying out to Qatar.

 

Two players that are at risk of falling foul to the schedule are Manchester City and England duo Kyle Walker and Kalvin Phillips. Both are currently sidelined and are in a race against time to be fit for the tournament that begins in 20 days time – should England manager choose to select them.

Walker has been a key player for both City and England for years now, with his positional versatility making him particularly important to Southgate’s side. The right-back injured his groin in the Manchester derby a month ago, and subsequently underwent emergency surgery.

Phillips was a key member of the England side that reached the final of Euro 2020 last year, but he has endured a nightmare start to his City career. Since City signed the midfielder from Leeds in the summer he has played just 13 minutes of competitive club football, two shoulder dislocations forcing him under the knife.

Speaking to the media on Tuesday, Guardiola assessed that while neither a likely to feature in City’s three games before the season pauses, both could be fit should Southgate choose to call upon them.

“Kalvin is doing partial training sessions with the team so not contact yet but we will see the evolution and the needs,” said Guardiola. “I know how important the World Cup is but I’m not going to use a player if they are not ready in physicality or rhythm.

“Kyle [Walker] – I’m impressed how quick his recovery but still a bit late compared to Kalvin.

“It’s likely [they can be ready], the way they recover. I don’t know intentions for Gareth [Southgate]. He spoke with them regularly. They know better than me, What I hear in the dressing rooms can be ready. You don’t play a World Cup every week.”

On the face of it it might seem that Guardiola is passing the buck to Southgate. Frankly, he is – after all, whether Walker and Phillips play at the World Cup or not is likely not high on his list of priorities.

But in doing so he is also showing his compassionate and human side, something his critics like to claim he lacks. Plenty of managers wouldn’t hesitate to try and dissuade their players from going to the World Cup if they thought they would be better off staying behind to recover. That’s exactly what Sir Alex Ferguson tried – and failed – to do with Wayne Rooney in 2006.

As he said, Guardiola appreciates how important the chance to play at a major tournament is for players. He himself missed EURO 1996 after falling out with Spain’s coach at the time, and missed the 1998 World Cup through injury.

Ultimately, Southgate has the final call. Even if Walker and Phillips have to hobble to the plain, Pep will not stand in their way.

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