Theo: From the shock inclusion, to the shock exclusion
Once again, Walcott makes headlines as Fabio Capello chooses World Cup squad
Wednesday 02 June 2010
Alongside the image of the England WAGs flexing their platinum credit cards in the boutiques of Baden Baden, the surprise inclusion of a largely unknown Theo Walcott in the World Cup squad of 2006 was to prove one of the few memorable moments of an otherwise highly forgettable campaign.
In the end he failed to play and the then 17-year-old's greatest moment of the tournament came when he beat Rio Ferdinand 3-0 at PlayStation in the team hotel – becoming a potent symbol of Sven-Goran Eriksson's dispiriting tenure as manager of the so-called "Golden Generation".
Scroll forward four years and Walcott has trebled his salary to £60,000 a week at Arsenal where – injury permitting – he is a first-team regular, and is once again providing the headline for the long-awaited final selection for the England World Cup squad, although this time the news was that he had not been selected.
A statement issued on his behalf showed the kind of attitude that he will hope will appeal next time to the famously disciplinarian boss Fabio Capello, who has now agreed to stay on with the national team whatever happens in South Africa.
"I am very disappointed not to be included in the squad going out to South Africa, but completely respect Mr Capello's decision," said Walcott on his club's website. "I would like to wish the team the best of luck and hope they have a really successful tournament." Privately he was said to be crushed by Capello's decision to leave him at home.
The reason for his failure, according to England luminaries such as the 1966 hero Geoff Hurst, has been the winger's inability to build on his natural blistering speed over the past 12 months and become the kind of world-beating talent that appeared to be announced when he scored a hat-trick against Croatia in 2008. Despite starts in the recent friendlies and the one-on-on coaching advice of David Beckham, it has just not happened for him.
In recent interviews Walcott has agreed with his England team-mate Steven Gerrard's assessment that he did not deserve to go to the 2006 finals – although not the more damning description of his duties in Germany as little more than a ball-boy to the grown men of that team who eventually came to grief on penalties against Portugal in the quarter-finals.
He insisted that he now wanted to be selected on merit, not for the promise that persuaded Nike to sign him up in a major sponsorship deal at the tender age of 14 or convince the Arsenal manager, Arsène Wenger, to lock him in for another four years at the north London club last year. "I feel I am there by rights and, fingers crossed, I will be on that plane," he said optimistically.
As his club continues to endure an uncharacteristically extended trophy famine, Walcott's greatest achievement to date has been lifting the BBC Young Sports Personality of the Year award in 2006, though in 2008 he was the penultimate torch bearer for the Olympic flame as it headed from London to the Beijing Games – a procession that was marred by scuffles between police and pro-Tibet demonstrators.
Nike will stick with Walcott, who appears alongside Wayne Rooney in the global sportswear brand's World Cup campaign. He will continue as an ambassador for his charities and, being just 21, can no doubt look forward to taking part in Euro 2012 and at least two more World Cups.
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