You shouldn’t be surprised if faced with a question similar to the one above i.e. Where is our No. 14!? Answers may range from, ‘We had Thierry Henry playing there, aye (!?)‘ to ‘It was this real fast guy‘ & so on. You shouldn’t also be surprised if few fail to remember this guy completely. But then pardoning them would be much easier than forgetting the promise one English teenager had shown signs of, months before WC ’06. It’s that time of the year again, & we @11G rewind time to get up-close with Theo Walcott. Our No. 14 btw..
Aged 20, Theo Walcott, the current Arsenal No. 14, has already seen more twists & turns in his rather nascent career than most see in their lifetimes. After all, not many kids are possessed with pace as raw as his. Not many are hand-picked by one of England’s premier club’s aged merely 16 (which made him the costliest teenager ever is noteworthy here). Not many get a free trip to football’s biggest draw, the World Cup i.e., that too as a player, without even making a senior debut with his club. Not many are Theo Walcott anyways. Welcome to his life, a life lived in the fast lane.
He has been the protagonist in each of the aforementioned situations. History will tell you that he didn’t get a single minute of playing time in Germany with the English side, but what he gained on experienced can’t be denied either. With expectations as huge as a monster-ball, he eventually made his bow with the Gunners in the season that followed. Still a naive teenager, he showed glimpses of sheer brilliance every now and then & continued to hone his skills under the able tutelage of Professor Wenger. ‘That’ goal against Chelsea in the Carling Cup final (his first for Arsenal) or ‘that’ run against Liverpool in the Champion’s League quarters (a 80-yard surge like no other), the faithful had their hands full times over. Whilst Stuart Pierce & Sven Goran kept assigning him different roles with the national side (U-21 or the senior side), his involvement as a full-time member was far from proven. All that changed during the September of ’08. Against Croatia, in Zagreb, he bagged a hat-trick, no less, & put to rest all the skeptics doing rounds. His pace, strength & finish had the Croats in a state of delusion. The ‘boy-wonder‘ had arrived. He finished the season with Arsenal scoring 7 goals, & more importantly looking a menace every time he came on. Everything seemed in place for the kid from St. Mary’s (read: Southampton). He re-joined the national side for the U-19 Euro’s during the off-season, much to the angst of Arsene, & risked picking an injury ahead of the new season. Thankfully he returned safe but that was that. A fresh season began soon after, but the decline of Theo, it seems, had already began somewhere in the interim.
Season 2009-10 has been a disaster even by his standards. Knee, shoulder and hamstring injuries have restricted Walcott to just six starts for Arsenal this season. Arsenal switching to a winger-unfriendly 4-3-3 has also contributed to his supposed wilderness on the pitch. He seems unsure whether to attack or to recline back & help out the full-backs as they overlap him. Wenger, meanwhile, has been adamant in his backing the young prodigy, & maintains that he will get back to his best once he out-do’s his injuries. Theo himself recently spoke of his frustration at having picked minor niggles all season, something he felt was very unlike him, & reiterated Arsene’s faith by echoing his thoughts.
England have a healthy mix of RW/RM’s & Fabio Capello will have his job cut out in choosing from David Beckham, Aaron Lennon, Shaun Wright Phillips, Theo Walcott, amongst others. With competition as high as this, Theo must be praying to have seen the last of the treatment season, for this season at least. Else he might go the Michael Owen-way & fade out of public memory sooner than later. Let’s not forget, Owen had a fairly successful career with the Three Lions. Theo has barely begun & has a long distance to cover.
Pace is something he relates to like fish to water. Time, like his runs down the flanks, too, is running equally fast. For the first time under public glare & scrutiny, he must now rise up to the occasion & shut his detractors once and for all. He must not forget that he gets paid to represent England at football tourneys & not just run & run to try and make the English sprint squad for the London Olympics 2012! We have had enough of ‘the next superstar‘, ‘talented but needs time‘, ‘his time will come’, rhetoric. It’s about time Theo Walcott out-paced the other contenders & booked his place on the flight to South Africa. And that, only after guiding the Gunners to silverware before the season bids adieu. Oh, did I just go over-board with my optimism here or what!?
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