As I write this on Father’s Day, I have a rather appropriate confession to make: I love Theo Walcott like a son. When he frustrates me and I criticise him, it’s because I believe he can do better. And I defend him to the hilt when “outsiders” have a go at him.
This is especially true on the national scene, where he has taken a ton of unwarranted flak from fans of other clubs. Their opinion seems based less on what they see and more on what they expect. Such expectations of Theo have been falsely-elevated following the unorthodox beginning to his career, where he was prematurely picked for England despite having never featured for Arsenal. The associated media hype blew his talent out of proportion, and his so-called “failure” to live up to this has seen him derided.
Many don’t bother trying to understand what type of player he is. To say he has no football brain is lazy and wrong, but to call him a natural a la Messi, Rooney or Wilshere would also be pushing it. The truth, as ever, lies in between the two extremes.
For the first time since his hat-trick in Croatia way back in 2008, young Master Walcott is the recipient of countrywide goodwill after his electric cameo for England against Sweden. I, like many of you, revelled in this.
His match-winning performance was sweeter given the treatment he’s received on the international front – ludicrously selected for the 2006 World Cup and then harshly dropped in 2010. Factor in England missing out on Euro 2008 and you arrive at the crazy stat that Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain appeared in a senior international tournament before Walcott did, despite Theo being selected for one SIX years ago.
Confession no.2 – I don’t particularly care for the fate of the England team unless they contain Gunners. Heck, I wasn’t even paying proper attention to England/Sweden until Walcott was subbed on.
I want to love the Three Lions like I did in those heady days of Euro ’96. But there are too many despicable individuals in the side, and they aren’t sufficiently outweighed by Arsenal players (yet) for me to give my heart to the team.
However, I also admit that I haven’t celebrated a goal as raucously as I did Theo’s since Vermaelen’s last-gasp winner against Newcastle in March. It was years of pent-up second-hand frustration being released.
Naturally the clamour for Theo to start versus Ukraine is gaining momentum (although at the time of writing, this has taken a setback as he pulled up in training with a tight hamstring). But from a purely selfish point-of-view, I’m minded to keep Theo as a supersub.
I wholly admit that I am a plastic international fan and therefore don’t have England’s best interests at heart. What I am concerned with is the pressure that will be put on Theo’s shoulders if he’s given the nod against the host nation, and more pertinently the inevitable backlash he he’ll suffer if things don’t go to plan, largely through no fault of his own.
My biggest gripe with England under Fabio Capello was that Walcott was always culled after 60-70mins. This robbed him of the opportunity to run at tiring defenders. Instead someone like Adam Johnson would come on and claim the glory, thus making Theo look relatively ineffective. All despite the fact that it was Theo who had put in the hard yards for two-thirds of the game; who had tracked back; who had caused the opposition full-back to tire.
Right now, I’m more than happy for the reverse scenario to play out. Let a lumbering oaf like Milner do the donkey work for an hour, and then bring on Walcott to run them ragged.
In an ideal world, Theo would start and play the entire 90mins like he frequently does for Arsenal. But this England outfit is not like our beloved Gunners. While they both share a penchant for starting games with the handbrake on, England simply don’t have our technical ability to retain possession.
Furthermore, England don’t have a right-sided bias like we do. I’ll even go as far as saying that certain members of the national team actively refuse to pass to a better-placed Walcott. The bastards.
With less possession and a lack of trust from his team-mates (hopefully the latter will change as Theo becomes more assertive), I could envisage him having an ineffective opening hour. And being a confidence player, I’m doubtful whether he’d be able to take the game by the scruff off the neck in the dying embers having been starved of service for the majority of proceedings.
Yes, he showed encouraging signs of being able to step up in matches for Arsenal – most notably the North London derby where a shocking first-half was transformed into a sparkling second – but I can’t see him replicating this for the national team just as yet. Simply because his international colleagues don’t believe in him as much as his club ones do and the rigid 4-4-2 formation doesn’t exploit his strengths as effectively.
So from an “Arsenalised” perspective, I’d once again love to see Walcott come on for the last 30mins as the ultimate game-changer or counter-attacking weapon. He’s toiled enough on the international stage; now it’s time for some individual plaudits.
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