Kyle Walker has admitted criticism from Pep Guardiola “hurt” during his spell out of the Manchester City team earlier this season.
Guardiola said in April that Walker was not equipped to play in the inverted full-back role and instead picked natural centre-back John Stones for the position.
– Stream on ESPN+: LaLiga, Bundesliga, more (U.S.)
Walker was restricted to just three starts in two months between February and April but is back in the team ahead of his side’s Champions League semifinal second leg against Real Madrid at the Etihad Stadium on Wednesday.
“Did it hurt? Of course it did,” Walker said on Tuesday when asked about Guardiola’s claim he didn’t have the “educated movements” of Stones.
“I can’t sit here and lie to you and say it didn’t hurt. Of course it did, You start to doubt yourself but you have to go back to basics to what you are good at, what he bought you for and prove him wrong and that is what I have done.
“I have to react as a professional, he is my manager, my boss, sometimes certain opinions in football, you don’t always agree with, but for what he has done for me and for Man City in the last six years, has been nothing short of tremendous.”
Walker is set to start against Madrid and is likely to again come up against Vinicius Junior, who scored in the 1-1 draw at the Bernabeu on Wednesday.
Walker was seen embracing Vinicius on the pitch following first leg during which the Brazilian winger had tried an audacious flick over the defender’s head.
“I went to hug him because he tried to rainbow flick me, so it was kind of like, ‘please don’t try that again, I don’t want to be a meme’,” Walker said. “Boxers fight, have a good battle, and then they shake hands after, and that is the level of respect I do have for him.
“It is a personal battle where you are coming up against one of the best players in the world but I have faced many over the years who have been just as good as him.”
Victory over Madrid would leave City just three wins away from a historic treble, achieved only once before in English football by Manchester United in 1999.
The Champions League is the only trophy to elude Guardiola in seven years at the club but he insists he doesn’t need to win it to be considered a great.
“My legacy is already exceptional,” he said. “We have been here many times. I’ve told the players to enjoy the moment. We are incredibly lucky to be here, it’s in our hands, it depends on us. We don’t have to do anything exceptional, win one game to reach the final.”