'Theo was outstanding from word go'

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The Independent Football

The man who nurtured the early career of Theo Walcott was certain yesterday that the youngster can handle his World Cup call-up.

Huw Jennings, the former Southampton academy manager who is now head of youth development for the Premier League, oversaw the striker's progression at St Mary's, said: "I have no doubts Theo has the temperament to handle this and I am confident he will not let anyone down.

"I am always cautious about trumpeting young players because I don't want to put pressure on them but Theo has handled every step up. He has always played above his age group and still done well so there is no reason he should not continue that.

"I was surprised but delighted for him, for his family and for all those at Southampton who have worked so hard with him during his formative years, particularly Malcolm Elias who identified him and brought him to the club," he added. "I always knew he had the potential to go on and play for England but to get a World Cup call-up at barely 17 is remarkable. This time last year he was sitting his GCSEs."

Some former professionals sounded a note of caution, with George Cohen unable to understand why Arsène Wenger has yet to pick Theo Walcott for Arsenal despite tipping him for the England squad.

Cohen said: "I saw Walcott on a video once and he looked sensational - but why did he not play for Arsenal when they were struggling if Wenger thinks he's so good? If Walcott's in the squad, he must be expected to play, and I do not believe it's a good thing. With so little preparation it's asking too much of Walcott."

The head of PE at Walcott's old school, although he said he is "amazed" at his former pupil's call-up, saw much to impress him.

Andy Colling, of The Downs School, in Manor Crescent, Compton, Berkshire, said: "Theo was outstanding from the word go. I could see the potential he had in a range of different sports, not just football. The speed of movement and his ability to read a game was evident in all sports.

"He was also a gifted cricketer and basketball player who just stood out way above other people."

He added: "I've heard that he's faster than Thierry Henry. He holds our school record for the 100m at 11.5 seconds, set when he was just 15. He's put on plenty of muscle since then."