There was a time when Theo Walcott was so unwilling to rock the boat that even when Fabio Capello dropped him from last summer's World Cup finals within hours the player had released an "official" statement wishing the team good luck, and consenting to take the decision squarely on the chin.
Then, when Walcott was recalled to the squad in August 2010 – with the England manager at his lowest ebb after the failure in South Africa – the player resisted putting the boot in and said that Capello has been right to drop him. If ever a footballer had wanted to give his manager an easy ride, then this was surely it. But as of last month English football's Mr Nice Guy decided to bite back.
For a footballer as studiously uncontroversial as Walcott, his criticism of Capello in his autobiography was football's equivalent of Geoffrey Howe's attack on Margaret Thatcher in his famous resignation speech of 1990. Walcott accused Capello of being "stiff and starchy" around the England camp and confessed to being "confused" by what was required of him by the Italian in training and in matches for the national team.
Even those who have been ignored by Capello have chosen not to criticise the manager in public – despite being aware he will be gone by this time next year – and as a result Walcott will have known that even the slightest criticism of Capello would attract attention. But given the opportunity yesterday to add a little context to his comments in Theo, Growing Up Fast, Walcott stuck firmly to his guns. Walcott said he was "very happy" with the book and that he had approved every word.
"I knew it wouldn't cost me at all," he said. "If I play well, the manager will pick me. I saw Mr Capello [after the book was serialised in a national newspaper]. There's no point thinking what's going to happen next. You just need to be professional, play your football and that's what I do.
"I'm playing well at the moment, I'm enjoying it, hopefully my managers can see that as well and show faith. I've always had respect for all the managers I've ever been involved with. When I have not been playing well, they've still picked me, which is nice to see. The manager picked me the other night [against Bulgaria on Friday], which I was grateful for. But if you're playing well, you'll get a chance to play."
After the publication of his criticism Walcott encountered Capello in Udine ahead of the second leg of Arsenal's Champions' League qualifier against Udinese last month where the England manager told him he preferred Walcott "more as a footballer than a writer". It was a comment intended to draw a line under the affair although there is no doubt that the Capello camp were not best pleased about the comments in the book.
"He [Capello] just laughed it off," Walcott said. "I wasn't nervous. He's slightly changed and is more relaxed. He just gets on with his job. He's very professional still. I think he was just talking to Arsène [Wenger] actually and I went up to him and said 'hello' and he said that [about preferring him as a "footballer"]. We both laughed and that's it.
"Everyone is always entitled to their own opinion. I am as well. I'm growing up. I want to express to people how I'm feeling, what I want, what I want to achieve. I think that's why I'm enjoying my football and getting a bit more out of myself. A couple of years ago I wasn't the player I could have been. Injuries were a part in that too. But I'm entitled to my opinion and I want to show people that I do care and I want to prove a lot of people wrong and reach the top of my game. There's a lot more to come from me... when I play up front."
The last part was just the latest in a series of strenuous pleas this year that he should be deployed as a striker rather than a winger for both club and country, and he was on the same topic again yesterday. "I'm not a natural winger," Walcott said. "I was bought as a striker. I will play anywhere for club and country. I'm not demanding anything, I'm just putting it out there, giving the managers something to think about. Only time will tell but I'd love it if it happens."
The prospect of him turning from the eager-to-please young prospect to the more hard-bitten senior pro is an intriguing one. When he was pushed further on the subject of his autobiography, Walcott, talking ahead of England's Euro 2012 qualifier against Wales tomorrow, was eager to change the subject but, by the same token, he was not about to bow to those who say 22 is too young to write an autobiography.
Walcott said: "A lot of people who you know now are not going to care when something comes out 10 years later. So I just wanted to reflect on my opinions, how I feel now, because I will probably forget them in 20 years' time."
At least it saved him from having to dwell to long on Arsenal's 8-2 defeat to Manchester United last month, an experience that Walcott said, made for a "completely dead" atmosphere in the away dressing room afterwards. Neither would he shed any light on his future with Arsenal, to whom he is contracted for just another two years other than to say: "I'm sure the club will sit down. Only time will tell." Although, judging by his mood, Arsenal would be wise not to take it for granted that Walcott will be a pushover.