No more Mr Nice Guy? Arsenal's mild-mannered starlet Theo Walcott is hardly about to turn into a snarling Vinny Jones, or to win a shouting match with Stuart Pearce, but yesterday he revealed his annoyance at being substituted and dropped at the European Under-21 Championship here, and claimed he was entitled to more support after defying his club manager to play.
Arsène Wenger argued unsuccessfully with the Football Association that Walcott should not come to the finals after being involved in two full internationals at the start of this month. The striker disagreed and, keen to play for his country at a tournament for the first time, he was all the more disappointed by his introduction to this one. Pulled off at half-time in the opening game against Finland, he received no warning that when the team to play Spain was pinned up in the England hotel that he would only be a substitute. His response was to come off the bench in the 62nd minute and set up a goal for James Milner with the sort of electric burst down the flank that made his name at Southampton.
Asked yesterday if he was angry, Walcott responded: "Of course. I took it out on the pitch and let my feet do the talking. You probably saw me around and I wasn't too happy obviously because I came here to play. If you are not disappointed there is something wrong, you're just here for the social. I just want to play."
As a wide player who likes to dribble, Walcott needs a good pitch. It was significant that on a bobbly one for Fabio Capello's team in Kazakhstan and then a dry one against Finland in Halmstad, he was twice substituted after 45 minutes. Yet he did not use that as an excuse, joking that "even my parents booed me off at half-time [against Finland]. It was one of those games. Sometimes you are flying and sometimes you can do nothing in the whole game, then a bit of magic happens.
"That day it just didn't go my way at all. The manager spoke to me after and I spoke to him. He put my mind at rest, for the Spain game especially, which I'll keep to myself. That was one of the messages I did get across, I just wanted to be shown a little bit of support for being here."
Some felt there was an element of macho posturing in Pearce's handling of the situation, yet as Capello's assistant he has assimilated the prevailing England philosophy that the collective good is everything. Overall it does not appear to have damaged Walcott's opinion of the manager, of whom he said: "He wants to do well and we want to do well for him. You can see the passion on the bench every game."
It is just that, like everyone else, Walcott would rather be observing it from the pitch in tomorrow's semi-final against Sweden.
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Robert Acquafresca Cagliari and Italy
Belarus, 1-0 up and threatening to eliminate Italy on Tuesday, were suddenly hit by a dose of cold water. Acquafresca, quick and clinical, calmly converted a penalty and later tapped in the winning goal to establish himself as second in the leading scorer list at the finals. Internazionale retain 50 per cent of his registration. Are you watching, Jose?Reuse content