Mark Lawrenson took a break from looking thoroughly unimpressed with everything, and life in general, on the Match of the Day sofa this week, to tell us in his Mirror column (the Daily Mirror, not his bathroom one, though I’m sure he gives uninspiring opinions to that as well) that Theo Walcott must start for England in the World Cup this summer. His argument was the usual stuff about David Beckham being nothing but an automated set piece machine nowadays and not worthy of starting etc etc, and while all that is undoubtedly true and observant for someone living in 2008, since Beckham hasn’t started an England game for ages now, the problem Lawro cunningly identified was rather redundant. The problem is Theo Walcott, who’s had his least impressive season, relatively at least, since coming to prominence as a 15 year old.
His progress has been slower than anyone expected or hoped, and after making headlines by being picked for England without even playing for Arsenal, he’s now gone backwards, not playing for Arsenal and maybe not even being picked for England either. At 20, he should’ve been approaching world class by now if his early hype was to be believed. In the 4 years since he signed for Arsenal he hasn’t got any bigger, hasn’t got remarkably better, and has only managed 15 appearances for the Gunners this year. In fact since 2007-08, his appearances have gotten less each season, which, with obvious excuse for injury, really isn’t the kind of progress Arsene Wenger or Fabio Capello want to see. Granted, he’s had bad luck of injuries, which have halted his progress and stunted his playing time, but even in that time, he’s rarely shown much improvement in technique or composure beyond the odd tweaks. He’s a quick player, but if injuries continue to get the better of him, he’ll need more than that.
The lad clearly has class, but should Wenger be pinning the future of the Arsenal right wing on him in the way Sir Alex Ferguson did with Cristiano Ronaldo? The answer is no. And a very blunt one unfortunately. Besides the obvious unfairness of comparing a still malleable Walcott to the former first and current second best player in the world, the naked truth of the matter is that Walcott was never going to be at that level anyway. The hype around him was ridiculous, and never anything he deserved or, to be fair to him, even wanted. The whole World Cup 06 saga did nothing but set him up for a fall and the media’s need to find old players to label new ones the new version of was destined to be unfair when he played in the same team as Thierry Henry. Giving him Henry’s number was a mistake in my view, a move intended to galvanize him but with the pressure still hung over from the World Cup debacle, all it did was highlight how much work he had to do to reach the level expected of him. Instead of being another of Arsenal’s promising kids, he was the next new best thing since sliced Jesus. It didn’t do anyone, least of all the boy himself, any favours.
I like Walcott, I think he’s a useful player and occasionally a mercurial one. One that could provide a valuable asset to both Arsenal and England periodically, but I really don’t think he’s going to become a legend for either. He’s a an above average winger but not much better technically than Aaron Lennon and shorn of confidence, occasionally a hugely impotent one. He’s Jermaine Pennant with a better attitude. Expecting him to become a consistent world beater or international darling beyond the occasional inspired performance is wishful in my opinion.
I hope he proves me wrong, and if he does make the World Cup squad and goes on to inspire the team I’ll gladly eat my hat, shorts and socks with a slice of pie made with top quality humble, but if Arsene Wenger is waiting for him to step up a la Fabregas, he’ll be waiting a long time.