I must admit that I was initially skeptical of Arsenal’s decision to cough up around 12 million pounds for a 16-year-old ‘wonderkid’ back in January 2006.
But Theo Walcott has demonstrated during his fledgling career an ability to change a match in an instant. Look no further than his brilliant assist against Liverpool in the Champions League quarter final in 2008 and his performance off the bench against Barcelona at the Emirates last season for examples of his dynamic impact on games.
However, having previously played the role of super-sub, he admitted that this season he needs to have a greater influence and be playing regularly if he is to fulfill his potential.
“I’ve just had a very good pre-season, I’m happy to be back playing football now and I want to show everybody what I can do this season. I want to express myself, relax, enjoy myself and play my football this season.”
He has done just that in the opening fixtures, slotting a brilliant hat-trick past Blackpool in a 6-0 drubbing and opened the scoring with a classy finish in a 2-1 win over Blackburn. Being left out of the England World Cup squad has obviously left him feeling both fresh and motivated to prove Fabio Capello that he was wrong not to take him to South Africa.
Yet, an impressive return of four goals in three games thus far has not prevented his critics from circling once again. Match of the Day pundits Chris Waddle and Alan Hansen recently accused the speedster of not having a “football brain”, with Hansen going so far as to say that “when he has time to think, he never, ever picks out the right ball.”
Walcott’s response to their criticism?
“Everyone is entitled to their opinion but the people I listen to are the boss (Arsene Wenger), Mr Capello, the players and my family.”
Creating a positive environment and maintaining a love for the game will be the key to him becoming a world-class player in the future. Team-mate Tomas Rosicky believes that the best way for Walcott to answer the critics is to just “go out and enjoy his football.”
The Englishman’s passion and dedication for the game is clearly evident through revelations that his blistering early season form has come from extra training.
“I stay behind to improve on things like the final ball, the end product, stuff like that. I work with Bacary Sagna on the right, working on that combination and putting crosses in for strikers. I practice on crossing, finishing and penalties.”
It wasn’t so long ago that a young Portuguese teenager arrived in England blessed with incredible pace and a bag of tricks, but lacked an end product. He was seen by many as a diver and whiner. Over the next few years, guided by expert coaching and extra training, he developed into arguably the best player in the world and matured as a person.
My point? Walcott clearly has the commitment needed to improve and, at only 21 years of age, there are many more years left in his career to develop aspects of his game that have come under unnecessary criticism. No-one can replace Thierry Henry, but in Theo Walcott, Arsenal have a player who can potentially become a dominant force in the Premier League for many years to come.