England’s Future Stars – Theo Walcott

Considered to be one of England’s finest talents, Theodore James Walcott is still a work-in-progress when it comes to attaining a regular England and Arsenal place. Highly regarded by the English media and his club boss Arsene Wenger, Theo Walcott is working hard to do justice to his reputation. Aside from his performances as a senior England player, Walcott has been a regular at the U-21 level, with both playing a part in his bid to become one of England’s brightest future stars.

The former Southampton youngster was heralded as a prodigy in waiting during his time at St Mary’s and before long, large Premier League outfits such as Arsenal, Tottenham and Chelsea were beating a path to the south coast side’s door. The young Walcott, having scored five goals in twenty three appearances for the Saints, responded to Arsene Wenger’s call and moved to the Emirates stadium at the start of the 2006/2007 season. In 2006, Theo’s immense talents saw him on the end of a shock call up to the England World Cup squad by the then manager Sven Goran Eriksson. Although the decision proved a controversial one since he never played a minute of England’s campaign, Walcott can at least claim he was given an early taste of the pressure cooker world of international football. Just prior to Germany 2006, Walcott had become the country’s youngest ever full international by appearing against Hungary at Old Trafford in a World Cup warm up match.

Now a regular for the Gunners and a strong ‘probable’ for Fabio Capello’s South Africa 2010 squad, Theo Walcott’s next aim in life will doubtless be to win some silverware for his club team and get more international starts under his belt ahead of next summer‘s World Cup. He remains an U-21 England international, working under the guidance of Stuart Pearce and Capello is keen to see Walcott vetted at junior level before making him a regular for the senior England team. Walcott’s first and only goals in his England career came against Croatia in a World Cup qualifier on September 10, 2008 when the Arsenal striker registered a hat-trick to give England a memorable 4-1 win in Zagreb. In netting three times, he became the youngest player in history to score a hat-trick for England.

Since scoring that wonderful hat-trick , Walcott’s form for both England and Arsenal since then has petered out and his progress has been hampered by a shoulder injury that kept him out for nearly four months. Fabio Capello, ever ruthless in his decision making, has yet to make Theo a starter in the mould of Steven Gerrard or Wayne Rooney and is keeping a beady eye on Walcott as he attempts to revive his fledgling career.

The forward’s inclination to play for the England U-21s at this year’s European Championships provided a true indication that he is ready to sacrifice his club priorities to earn further forays into the international arena. His decision on this front got him a series of accolades from the English media since Walcott had to both disobey his club manager and cut short his end-of-season holiday to represent England in the UEFA U-21 EURO Championships in Sweden. It provided a marked contrast to Tottenham Hotspur wide man David Bentley’s refusal to play for the U21s two years prior, and Walcott’s commitment and determination have impressed both Pearce and Capello.

Theo Walcott’s role as a wide player in the England set up suggests that he will need to require much match practice in this position ahead of the World Cup. The Arsenal man will have to prove he can take up positions to receive the ball out wide whilst also providing some semblance of an end product, something which rivals such as Shaun Wright Phillips and Aaron Lennon have failed to do too often.

England’s Head Coach meanwhile, has not hesitated to provide words of encouragement, saying: “Theo will be very important because we have to attack. Wide areas are very important because they are places where one man can go directly against another. I have spoken with Theo. He has been training well and needs to play.”

Once considered to be a long term replacement for Michael Owen, Theo Walcott needs to go a long way to live up to his initial billing, but he is on the right track provided he can avoid the shoulder problems that plagued his most recent season in the top flight. Indeed, many see him moving into a more central position at both club and international level. As an Arsenal player, Theo Walcott has inherited Thierry Henry’s no.14 shirt and as he has been quick to admit, it’s a big number to wear on your back given the legacy the French legend left in North London.

Born to a Jamaican father and an English mother, Theo sees himself as an ardent Liverpool fan, following on from his father’s own allegiance to the Merseyside club. The Reds were one of many suitors who followed Walcott’s progress at Southampton but the picture painted by Arsene Wenger coupled with the Gunners’ boss proven track record in developing young talent prompted Walcott to up sticks and move to the capital. It may well prove to have been an inspired choice as both Wenger and Capello are agreed on the way in which to utilize Theo’s qualities – currently as an outside right with a license to attack through the middle when the opportunity calls for it. The season leading up to next year’s finals will surely be the acid test and a final marker of the progress Walcott has made under both men.

Under-21 coach Stuart Pearce thinks his fight with Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger over the selection of Theo Walcott could help England lift the World Cup. The former Manchester City boss insisted on taking the Gunners star to the European Championship finals after Wenger complained bitterly about his inclusion. Walcott helped England’s youngsters reach the final against Germany – and Pearce reckons the experience gained in Sweden by the 20-year-old will help him take the world by storm next summer.

“There was some contention over Theo’s inclusion but I think the experience will help him in South Africa without a doubt,” said Pearce. “Hopefully he can now walk out in South Africa in a year’s time with this experience. He’ll know what it’s like to take a penalty in a penalty shoot-out, he knows what it’s like to play in sudden-death matches and in a major final. Theo knows what it’s like to be involved in tournament football now. He has been to the World Cup with the seniors but he never actually played. It’s important that he didn’t get caught in no man’s land in international football where he didn’t get any experience.”

Sensible words from a man who has seen Walcott at close quarters on more occasions than most. Fans of both England and Arsenal will be praying that Theo’s busy summer helps him turn in more of the same kind of performances that have helped him establish a reputation as a precious national treasure.

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