Arsenal's Theo Walcott has raised the prospect of Roy Hodgson's England players keeping Wayne Rooney out of the side on his return from a two-game suspension at the European Championships, insisting that filling his position should be elementary for players accustomed to the rigours of the Premier League.
Walcott does not appear to have made a powerful early impression on Hodgson, though the 23-year-old said that only now has he started to "ease [his] way back in" after the hamstring trouble which means he has not started a football match since 21 April. The midfielder said that there is an incentive for any player deputising for Rooney, whom Hodgson sees as a withdrawn striker, and that his absence need not damage the side's prospects.
"Wayne is obviously a very important player to the team, that's what we have to bounce back from," Walcott said. "He has a two-match ban but the players... play in the best league in the world as well. It's not a hard task for anyone who comes into Wayne's role. You never know, we might keep Wayne out of the team if we do well in the first two games."
Walcott provided an acute sense of the contrast between Fabio Capello's stringent regime and Hodgson's attempts to ensure there is period of relaxation between now and the flight to Krakow from Luton Airport tomorrow. "He's telling us to rest very well now and recover because it's going to be a tough few weeks. Make sure we use these two days in the right way. I'm just going to put my feet up and stay with my family. Just relax."
But for all his confidence, the winger does have much to prove. He has not scored for England since his legendary hat-trick against Croatia in Zagreb in September 2008 and Hodgson's observation late on Saturday when questioned on James Milner's selection at Walcott's expense that "the thing about Theo is... he has had quite a few chances in the team" suggested some scepticism. Exactly two years ago, Walcott's failure to keep to his right flank against Japan in England's pre-tournament friendly in Graz infuriated Capello, who promptly dropped him from the World Cup squad.
Walcott's link-play with Jermain Defoe against Belgium on Saturday left him feeling that England "are a team playing without any fear", as the player put it."When players come off the bench they want to grab that opportunity. There is always competition in any team. You have to train well and when you are given an opportunity you have to take it. If you come off the bench it's what you do on the pitch that matters. Going to a tournament is not just about individual players, it's about a team."