Comment: Arsenal forward Theo Walcott has the personality and ability to bounce back from six-month lay-off
He has always accepted the pressure with good humour and no bitterness. He is still young and there is a World Cup in him yet
It was after England’s elimination at the hands of Portugal in the 2006 World Cup that Theo Walcott walked round the stadium in Gelsenkirchen, away from the main group of players, and with only Aaron Lennon for company, taking in the atmosphere.
If being taken to a World Cup as a teenager, then yet to feature in the Premier League, and subsequently being overlooked by the manager had affected him it did not show. He was just 17 and the expectation was that, although this tournament had not worked out as he would have liked, there would be plenty more opportunities down the line.
Almost eight years on from then and still not 25 until March, Walcott knows that the third World Cup finals of his career is about to pass him by and there is nothing he can do about it. The cruciate ligament injury is not the career-ender it once was in the days of Brian Clough or that more recent teen prodigy Wayne Harrison, who died over Christmas, but it still claims a large chunk of any career.
Unused in 2006 when it was a mistake, later acknowledged by Sven Goran Eriksson, to take him, he was the surprise omission by Fabio Capello for the 2010 World Cup finals squad. His hat-trick against Croatia in September 2008 had given Capello’s qualifying campaign lift-off but, by the time the tournament came around, the Italian’s faith in him had ebbed.
On that occasion, Walcott accepted the decision with good grace and a statement wishing the team well. He could never really have been considered a favourite of Roy Hodgson, although he featured in the two qualifiers against Montenegro and Ukraine. He was injured for the two decisive games against Montenegro and Poland, in which Andros Townsend seized his chance.
The quality that Walcott has always possessed is the capacity to accept the bad times and come back stronger. Like all prodigies, much has been expected of him from an early age and he has always accepted the pressure with good humour and no bitterness. He is still young and there is a World Cup in him yet.
It was last season that Walcott came of age as an Arsenal player, responding with the best run of his career after threats from the club to freeze him out of the first team until he signed a new contract. As the club blundered on with heavy-handed negotiating tactics, he stuck to what he believed was his worth and eventually got the contract he wanted. He finished the season as the club’s top goalscorer.
During that time, he found himself the target for some supporters who, unhappy with the general malaise at Arsenal then, focused their anger on the contract refusenik. Now, as Arsenal pursue their first serious title challenge since 2007-2008, the absence of Walcott will be felt in a team that, for all its little artists, needs his raw pace.
His scoreline gesture to the Spurs fans over the weekend was typically innocent, given what some might have been tempted to do in the circumstances and the controversy that followed it was desperately overblown. It is pointless getting upset over these things when, as Walcott knows better than most, football can serve you champagne one day and cold cabbage soup the next.
He might have suffered more than his fair share of disappointments but his record suggests that he has the right temperament to bounce back from this latest one.
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