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By Ugandan Gooner
I was shocked when the England world cup squad for the 2006 edition in Germany was announced by the then three lions manager Eriksson and a 16 years old Theo Walcott was included for the soccer show piece in Germany. For starters Walcott was yet to even make his Arsenal debut after signing from Southampton when the unthinkable happened. He never played a game in Germany but could not escape all the attention that come with representing a country at the biggest stage.
That inclusion came along with a lot of pressure on the young lad after the world cup; the pressure to justify his inclusion in the world cup team by breaking into the Arsenal starting eleven and performing week in week out.
There was also pressure from the Arsenal faithful who all wanted to see what Eriksson had seen in the young sensation to unplug him from Wenger’s protective wings while excluding a player like Defoe.
Even the neutrals wanted to see what special qualities Eriksson had seen in the young man to take him to the world cup that the ever watchful Wenger had not seen to guarantee him a debut at Arsenal.
From then on the young player had to content with all the pressure from every corner that affected his development and had it not been for Wenger’s experience and patience in handling young players I believe Walcott’s progressed would have stalled and his talent would have gone to the dogs.
Wenger didn’t submit to pressure from the fans to play regularly for he knew the boy had already had too much hype and pressure and playing him regularly would have even put him under severe media watch and comparisons to other young English players who never made it at Arsenal like Pennant and Upson.
Wenger patience paid off when Walcott kept his head above water and started performing well for both club and country. However Wenger’s efforts have not been supported by the Football Association setup; instead of only using Walcott at the senior level, they went ahead to play him even at youth level and yet he had already shown his potential to the Italian disciplinarian Fabio Capello by scoring a hat trick away in Croatia; against a team that denied England the chance to play in the 2008 European Championship.
The way the F.A helped Rooney in his development as a footballer by only playing him at the senior level is the way I expect them to handle young players who are more promising than their peers; instead they kept on juggling Walcott between the senior team and the Youth team and when with the latter he became a senior figure by the fact that he had already made his full debut so he had to lead his peers by example and he had to pick up his colleagues when the going became tough. The to and fro movement between the senior team and the Youth team definitely affected Walcott’s self confidence. Besides Eriksson and the F.A; Walcott’s strong personality that has kept him up despite all the mistreatment he has undergone through he has not been helped by persistent injury he has had to face.
Every time he is about to fully recover, he gets an injury setback which keep dragging him backwards. At the moment he needs a little bit of luck to keep him injury free and a run of games for him to pick his form. I have no doubt in his ability but unless he stays injury free and get a run of games then he might miss the world cup in South Africa.
Mean Lean's Response
I think the problem has been a simple case of expecting far too much too soon from Theo. Players like Wayne Rooney, Cesc Fabregas and Lionel Messi do not come about every day. It is rare to find players so young who can be thrown into the highest level and hit the ground running, only the truly exceptional talents can do that.
Theo was a raw diamond, who needed plenty of work to get him shinning and ready for the shop window, instead he was being hyped up as the next wonder kid, the next Wayne Rooney when what he needed was to be left alone training with the likes of Henry, Pires, Bergkamp etc developing his strong points and working on his weaknesses.
If Theo Walcott was from Austria then he would have pretty much gone unnoticed in the Arsenal squad but because he is English and playing in the Premier League for one of the biggest teams in world football. This is enough to have every tabloid, pundit and radio station talking about him, he is the new saviour of English football. I wonder if the hype would be as high if England were a more talent outfit on the international scene, I am not so sure.
Walcott hasn't progressed as much as we would have liked and I base this on a few variables. I don't believe that he is the most natural footballer that you are likely to see, he has some fantastic qualities, an eye for goal and the obvious raw pace that hardly anyone in world football can touch but he is not the most technically gifted so it has probably taken him a little longer to develop that side of his game. But injuries has to be his biggest downfall.
Like 99% of players, he needs games to improve, he needs a run of 15-20 games without setbacks, he needs to correct his wrongs on the pitch by playing and once he gets that, he will get there.
The Walcott that I can picture in my head at 23 is not far from the one we see today. He will not flick the ball over the head of the opposition then back heal it into the path of a runner like someone with the talent of Jack Wilshere but he will be a devastatingly effective forward. His tunnel vision will disappear, he will become neat and tidy when receiving the ball and laying it off but his burst of pace and shooting will enable him to be fantastic for Arsenal. I can see it now, picking the ball up with his back to goal swerving outside a player and driving it into the bottom corner of the net.
In the meantime we need to get behind him and give him the chance to get to the required level. He has been at Arsenal for a few years now but he has not been playing a large portion of those games. Like Song, Diaby and Eboue, Theo Walcott will explode into life when the time is right.