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Has Theo Walcott, once English football’s great hope, fulfilled his potential?

Has Theo Walcott, once English football’s great hope, fulfilled his potential?

In March 2010, Barcelona travelled to Arsenal for the primary leg of the Champions League quarter-final between the 2 sides. Goalless at half-time, the sport was dominated by the Spanish giants, the holders of the competitors, they usually took a deserved lead via Zlatan Ibrahimović solely 23 seconds after the restart earlier than the Swede added a second 13 minutes later. 

This was Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona at their scintillating greatest, they usually actually ought to have ended the sport 4 or 5 objectives up. But 2-2 was the ultimate scoreline in London because the hosts crawled their approach again into the tie, thanks largely because of the introduction of Theo Walcott on 66 minutes. Simply three minutes after approaching, the Englishman latched on to a by way of ball from Nicklas Bendtner and slotted calmly underneath Victor Valdés to scale back the deficit. 

He performed a key position within the equaliser too, floating a cross into the field for Bendtner to nod into the trail of Cesc Fàbregas, who had his legs taken from beneath him by Carles Puyol. The Arsenal skipper picked himself as much as smash residence the ensuing penalty and safe a draw, however the plaudits have been heading Walcott’s means. 

His power, tempo and talent all through his cameo had Maxwell, one in every of Barcelona’s greatest gamers for the primary hour and amongst football’s most adorned gamers, wanting misplaced at left-back. Had he performed from the beginning, Arsenal might nicely have gained the sport.  

Barça would declare a Four-1 victory within the second leg on the Camp Nou with Lionel Messi scoring all 4, however Walcott’s efficiency on the Emirates had caught within the thoughts of the Argentine. Forward of one other Champions League assembly the next yr, he commented: “I can only speak from experience but he was one of the most dangerous players I have ever played against. Barcelona players are not scared easily but I can tell you that when we played Arsenal last season he truly worried us. We were so in control of the game at 2-0, with all respect Arsenal were not even in the game. Then Theo came on and changed the game. He pretty much single-handedly salvaged a draw that night.”

This was who Theo Walcott was meant to be. A participant mentioned as, and certainly by, among the best on the planet. 

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At occasions all through his profession, Walcott has been the untouchable pressure that many thought he can be. He scored twice within the north London derby in 2012 to assist Arsenal beat Tottenham 5-2. In the identical yr, his hat-trick was decisive because the Gunners got here from Four-Zero right down to beat Studying 7-5 in a single the craziest League Cup video games in historical past. In a 7-Three demolition of Newcastle, he scored three and assisted two extra. He’s scored in each the FA Cup and League Cup ultimate. In complete, solely 14 gamers in Arsenal’s historical past have netted extra objectives for the membership than Walcott’s 108.  

On the worldwide stage, a 19 year-old Walcott turned the youngest participant to attain a hat-trick for England when he netted three away to Croatia in 2008. He got here on in its place towards Sweden at Euro 2012, scoring a aim inside three minutes earlier than establishing Danny Welbeck, dragging England from 2-1 right down to Three-2 up within the course of. Extremely, Walcott has the very best win proportion with the Three Lions (70.2 %) out of any participant to have earned greater than 40 caps. Certainly, he has by no means misplaced a aggressive match with the nationwide aspect.

He’s definitely had his moments. The statistics above converse for themselves. However you’re nonetheless very a lot left with the sensation that, at 29 years previous, Walcott might have achieved extra. This will partly be because of the truth that the expectations and positioned on him at such a younger age are merely unimaginable to succeed in.

Once you turn out to be the costliest 16-year-old on the planet and are then picked for England’s World Cup squad simply 4 months later, having not even performed a minute within the Premier League, your potential sky rockets. When the comparisons to Lionel Messi and Thierry Henry come alongside, it’s boosted much more, particularly once you inherit the Frenchman’s shirt quantity at a membership the place he holds legend standing. It’s not excellent once you’re nonetheless creating and discovering your ft within the skilled recreation. 

In an period when the media place expectations on youngsters after one good recreation, when followers assume they’re certified scouts and when each contact, aim and mistake is accessible to view and scrutinise on-line, gamers like Walcott are virtually set as much as fail. When you think about that Wayne Rooney, a five-time Premier League winner and England and Manchester United’s all-time report goalscorer, continues to be considered by many as having not lived as much as his potential, then what hope is there for Walcott? 

Walcott has had his justifiable share of damage troubles, too. In September 2015, compiled a Most Injured Premier League XI of the 21st Century and included Walcott as they revealed that he had missed 1,030 days out via damage since signing for Arsenal. 

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The most important single interval of absence in that complete got here when the ahead missed 9 months of soccer after rupturing the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in an FA Cup conflict with rivals Tottenham in January 2014. He might have smiled smugly and gestured the 2-Zero scoreline to the Spurs followers to as he was proudly stretched off, however that damage couldn’t come at a worse time for the 24-year-old.

He was arguably within the type of his profession having registered double figures for each objectives (14) and assists (10) within the league in 2012/13, and began the subsequent marketing campaign by registering 5 objectives and 5 assists in 13 video games, together with a brace away to Manchester Metropolis. He was within the good place to lastly seem on the World Cup, having did not make it off the bench in 2006 earlier than being harshly omitted of the squad by Fabio Capello in 2010. It might be argued that Walcott hasn’t been the identical participant since. He definitely hasn’t featured, or scored, as recurrently. 

Since that analysis was carried out, Walcott has been removed from damage free, lacking over a month of motion in each 2015/16 and 2016/17 with a calf drawback. The latter marketing campaign additionally noticed the winger endure a hamstring damage which, added to a two-week bout of sickness final season, means Walcott has been sidelined for an extra 100 days or so within the final three years. 

Not solely do these absences go some method to rationalising the inconsistency that Walcott is usually criticised for, however additionally they say one thing about Arsenal’s contentious damage report While he might have been at Everton for simply 9 months, Walcott has missed only one league recreation in that point. If you additionally think about that two additional Arsenal gamers, Abou Diaby and Tomáš Rosický, additionally featured in probably the most injured Premier League XI of the 21st century, questions over the Gunners’ coaching strategies begin to seem.

Whether or not that’s a harsh evaluation or not, it’s in all probability true that staying on the membership for so long as he did – 12 years in complete – did prohibit Walcott from reaching his full potential. In 2006, the teenager couldn’t have picked a greater membership to proceed his improvement. It was exhausting to argue with the best way that Arsenal have been creating the skills of Cesc Fàbregas, Robin van Persie and Mathieu Flamini, all gamers who joined the membership aged 20 or underneath. 

On the time of Walcott’s arrival, the Gunners had gained two Premier League titles and three FA Cups within the earlier 4 seasons. 4 months after he joined, they reached the Champions League ultimate. There was no indication that a transfer to a brand new stadium would see these achievements dry up – fairly the other.

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However dry up they did, and Walcott, for some, got here to embody the Arsenal aspect that regularly underachieved, going 9 years and not using a trophy and failing to get previous the spherical of 16 within the Champions League in seven successive seasons, earlier than ultimately dropping into the Europa League. 

Because the membership stagnated, so did he. Arsenal shortly turned an surroundings that restricted his potential as an alternative of permitting it to develop and flourish. Arsène Wenger’s powers waned and he struggled to arrange the group to compete on the highest degree. He wasn’t positive learn how to use Walcott, how a lot freedom to offer him, or what place to play him in. Perhaps he was by no means positive.  

Walcott was seen as a striker from an early age. He was taken to the 2006 World Cup over established centre-forwards Darren Bent and Jermain Defoe. He regularly spoke of his want to minimize the center. A number of England managers and Wenger regularly claimed that probability would come. It by no means did, however for a couple of video games right here and there, and it’s a must to marvel how that has affected his profession. 

“It is a case of having trust in me up front,” Walcott plead in 2012. “I was signed as a striker and it is about time, I want to play up front. I have learnt my game on the wing. When you look at what I did last year I think I can do even more. Hopefully I will be given the opportunity. I am desperate for it.”

Once more, alternatives within the position have been few and much between, even after the departure of Van Persie. Wenger’s imaginative and prescient of Walcott making a Henry-esque transition from winger to striker was merely not rising. By 2016, Walcott had given up making an attempt. “I have told the manager that I want to be known for playing on the right again,” he stated. “I want to make my position on the right – that’s where I know I am now.”

It was the closest factor that a well mannered, reserved Walcott got here to criticising what was occurring round him. Extremely, Wenger epitomised the weird, infuriating nature of the entire state of affairs by enjoying him upfront the very subsequent recreation. 

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It might have taken the departure of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, one other Southampton academy product that Arsenal signed as a young person, to Liverpool in the summertime of 2017 to make Walcott realise that the grass was maybe greener elsewhere. Not that he wasn’t being given hints. After Walcott admitted that Crystal Palace “wanted it more” following a Three-Zero defeat at Selhurst Park in April 2017, Wenger’s fury was evident within the reality he handed the winger only one additional league begin out of a attainable 27 video games.  

Walcott would comply with Oxlade-Chamberlain to Merseyside, however to Everton, in January. The grass has certainly been greener. The 29-year-old has made 11 league begins in a row initially of this season – the final time he achieved that at Arsenal was March 2013. In complete, he’s made 24 league begins in 9 months at Goodison Park. His last two years on the Emirates yielded the identical quantity. 

This plethora of alternatives, which resulted in three objectives and three assists within the second half of final season, and two objectives and two assists at the beginning of the brand new marketing campaign, appeared to have permit Walcott to rediscover his previous self. However a current dip in type has left many questioning his place in Everton’s line-up with the inconsistent adjective once once more being bandied about. Ademola Lookman, the younger, recent and thrilling winger that Walcott once was, is after his beginning spot. 

Following Walcott’s poor efficiency towards Manchester United by which he seemed to be at fault for the 2 objectives Everton conceded, Graeme Souness ranted on Sky Sports activities: “Theo Walcott is 29 years old; when do you give up with players?”

While Souness was maybe a bit harsh, it isn’t an entirely inappropriate query. Walcott has simply two FA Cups and two Group Shields to point out for his 12-year profession. He has been caught on 47 England caps since November 2016, and a recall seems unlikely as Gareth Southgate pursues a youthful and revolutionary squad. 

In order he nears his 30th birthday, Walcott is getting into a make or break interval in his profession. A transfer away from north London has given him a brand new lease of life considerably, however can he make a run of type keep on with the Toffees? He was meant to have gained the treble with Arsenal and the World Cup with England by now. 

By Olly Allen @OllyAllen_