Walcott finally lives up to great expectations

Six years after his surprise call-up, the Arsenal winger has come of age


Ever since Sven Goran Eriksson took an ill-advised World Cup gamble on a 17-year-old in 2006, Theo Walcott has had to live with expectation. Now, six years on, nothing has changed.

England's decision to select Walcott as a glorified ball-boy in Germany had a profound effect on a fledgling career. Still one year under the legal limit, he was asked to drink in the intoxicating atmosphere of a major tournament less than four months after moving to the Emirates Stadium from Southampton.

Although he took no part in the run to the quarter-finals, the hype around Walcott consequently grew beyond reasonable parameters in a manner that has threatened to consume him.

Walcott's playing style is so rapid that excitement and disappointment stalk him. One moment a burst of pace has developed an attacking situation few other players could have created, the next it has gone with a poor decision or a misplaced pass.

The turbulence encountered at Arsenal this season knocked him off course as a section of the team's supporters became increasingly vocal in their criticism of a player the former England winger Chris Waddle once described as "without a football brain".

Walcott is a genial character who, despite public denials, undoubtedly had his faith shaken, as he takes criticism very much to heart. It is apparent most in his reluctance to take on defenders when confidence is low, while injuries have at times weakened his ability to answer back.

Frustration seems to follow Walcott. The Gunners' long search for a trophy will enter its eighth season in August, while his 2006 experience was compounded by England's absence from Euro 2008 and Fabio Capello's decision to omit him from the squad for South Africa two years ago.

Although he has shown flashes of ability for England, most notably a stunning hat-trick in a 4-1 victory over Croatia four years ago in a World Cup qualifier, his game-changing contribution in Friday's 3-2 victory over Sweden has been a long time coming.

Consternation would have increased when his club team-mate Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, five years his junior, tasted tournament football for the first time before he did, and clearly the 23-year-old believes he has made his point.

"If you do what I did coming off the bench hopefully you've shown the boss what you can do," said Walcott. "He [Roy Hodgson] said during the week, 'This week's going to be crucial for you, coming off the bench to make the difference'. That's what I did and we got the three points.

"It doesn't matter who scored, who played well. Three points in a tournament gets you far.

"I would say the whole season was pretty consistent for me. And I stayed fit, which is important for me, for the first season. Goals, quite a few assists, as well. I had such a difficult time at Arsenal at times, and the hamstring problem set me back with England. But I'm ready, I'm training well, I've been looking after myself.

"I had a good season for Arsenal and I was disappointed not to be playing the first game [against France], but you're going to be disappointed in this game."

After he was thrust into the public consciousness at such a young age, supporters are predisposed to assuming he is somehow failing to become the world-beater many assumed he would inevitably become.

But then it takes time for most players. While there are undoubtedly areas of his game that still require improvement, Walcott has worked hard at increasing his productivity. He has scored or assisted 16 goals in each of his past two Premier League seasons, compared with 19 in total for the previous four.

Walcott's goal and assist against Sweden gives Hodgson a welcome selection dilemma for England's final Group G match against Ukraine. James Milner provides defensive discipline starkly contrasted to Walcott's blistering pace, and the England manager refused to commit himself either way.

"They are different types of players and what James can give you is different to what Theo can give you," he said. "Preparing the two games against France and Sweden it was my decision James should start, but I have always been aware that with Theo we have a very good player to bring on. I am not prepared to go into details about the qualities of the players. Sometimes I have to make decisions."

Walcott must wait to find out if he has done enough to start, although he could barely do any more. There have been a few false dawns in his career to date but at least the wait to announce himself at an international tournament is finally over.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas