Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain earns England chance to sink or swim at Euro 2012
The comparison with Theo Walcott is a natural one for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to face given the position he plays in and the club he plays for, but Roy Hodgson was clear yesterday that there was no prospect of the Arsenal teenager having a similar experience to the one his club-mate went through at the 2006 World Cup finals.
Oxlade-Chamberlain is in the England squad because Hodgson believes that the 18-year-old is ready to play – and even ready to start games. For a young man who had not played above League One before the start of the season that is quite an endorsement as England prepare to play the best in European football at Euro 2012 next month.
"I wouldn't have chosen him if I didn't think he was ready to start games," Hodgson said. "It won't be easy for him to break into the team given the competition, as we've loaded up in the wide areas because [Wayne] Rooney can't play in the first two matches. But I'd like to think that, I've seen him play in European matches. One of the games where he really sprang to my attention was the match against Milan."
In his television press conferences, Hodgson had claimed that he had seen Oxlade-Chamberlain thrive against Andrea Pirlo in that sparkling second-leg performance at the Emirates, later correcting himself. Pirlo, so long a Milan stalwart, is at Juventus now but the memory of Oxlade-Chamberlain's performance in Arsenal's 3-0 win at home clearly still resonated with the England manager.
"He has a maturity beyond his years," Hodgson added of Oxlade-Chamberlain. "He is a precocious talent. I think, sometimes, there has to be a place in the squad for a precocious talent. It'll help England's future as well.
"I can't guarantee he will play. I'm pretty sure Sven Goran Eriksson selected Walcott for the right reasons as well but, when push came to shove, showed he wasn't quite up to it in training.
"I'm expecting that Oxlade-Chamberlain will now be able to deal with that situation and won't be overawed by the Gerrards, Lampards, Barrys and Parkers. I expect him to stand up to that, but I don't know. The only way I'll find out is to select him and sling him in at the deep end. Even if he doesn't swim now, he'll learn to swim in the future."
It felt like a fair assessment of the boy who joined Arsenal for £15m last summer and went beyond all expectations last season by making 26 first-team appearances. He is clearly much further ahead in his development than Walcott, who was also signed from Southampton, was when, as a 17-year-old, he was picked in Eriksson's 2006 World Cup finals squad never having made a senior appearance for Arsenal and was a long way out of his depth.
Oxlade-Chamberlain said: "It is massive to have Theo in the squad as well. To be named in the squad, straight away you think of everyone else there. I have been watching the likes of Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard and John Terry for a number of years on TV and also playing for England. That only seems like yesterday and now I'm going with them, it is a bit daunting but I can't wait. Straight away, I thought about how good it would be having Theo there, I have a mate."
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