If there’s anybody who can offer advice to Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain about representing England at a major football tournament as a teenager, it’s his Arsenal teammate Theo Walcott. Theo knows all about the expectations heaped on upon a youngster since he was selected to England’s World Cup team back in 2006 by Sven Goran Eriksson when he was just 17 years old.
After being left on the bench for that entire tournament, only Walcott himself knows how much, if at all, he benefited from the World Cup experience in Germany. Some experts feel Eriksson simply wasted a roster spot by taking him along while others argue that it helped him develop as a player. It’s fair to say that the jury’s still out on that one since Walcott hasn’t lived up to his billing in many people’s eyes.
Now it’s Oxlade-Chamberlain’s turn to feel the pressure as the 18-year-old Gunner was selected to England’s Euro 2012 squad by manager Roy Hodgson. For Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, he must be feeling a sense of déjà vu by having two teenage wingers thrust into the spotlight so early in their careers.
It’s safe to say that Walcott’s turned into a good player over the years, but calling him a great one might be stretching it a bit. One wonders if Oxlade-Chamberlain will fare any better and if the trip to Poland and Ukraine this summer will help his confidence grow or stunt his development. Of course, he should be flying high at the moment just by being selected to the squad.
If Oxlade-Chamberlain plays and does well at Euro 2012 it could be the best thing that could possibly happen since he’ll know he can play against the best Europe has to offer. If he doesn’t perform as well as expected it could harm his confidence to a certain degree. However, the key to his mental state of mind will lie with Hodgson.
In Walcott’s case, he wasn’t chosen for England again until two years after the 2006 World Cup. Not being selected for that length of time after being taken to Germany must have been a bit puzzling, but probably didn’t do his confidence much damage since he didn’t play poorly, simply because he didn’t play at all.
If Oxlade-Chamberlain plays this summer, Hodgson needs to realize that if he’s in the team’s long-term plans, that no matter how well or poorly he performs, he will need to be selected to the squad for the nation’s next game following Euro 2012. This won’t leave Oxlade-Chamberlain second guessing himself and worrying about how he played.
Being selected again right away will boost his confidence even if he has a mediocre tournament. If Oxlade-Chamberlain ends up waiting two years for his next cap, like Walcott had to do, it could seriously set him back mentally. Of course, if Hodgson doesn’t consider him to be a part of England’s future, then it’s doubtful he would have selected him in the first place.
Hodgson called Oxlade-Chamberlain shortly before announcing the Euro 2012 squad and told him he was going to be given the chance to prove he can play consistently at an elite level. This means he should get some quality minutes in England’s two pre-tournament games against Belgium and Norway. Oxlade-Chamberlain realizes this is just the first step to a successful international career and being selected to the squad doesn’t mean he’s made it.
He said he’s happy to be going to Euro 2012 and is looking forward to training with and learning from his more experienced England teammates. But considering Hodgson’s alternate options, such as Stewart Downing, there’s a good chance Oxlade-Chamberlain’s skill and speed will be depended on once the tournament kicks off. The winger, who can play on either flank as well as in the middle, said he’s not afraid to take players on no matter who they are. He said he’s filled with youthful enthusiasm and is always trying to make something positive happen when playing. He feels his brief experience with the Under-21 team will come in handy and will help him earn his first senior cap.
Hodgson said Oxlade-Chamberlain was picked for the squad on merit alone and he wants the player to prove that taking him along was the right choice. He’s already shown with Arsenal that he can excite the crowd with his pace and work ethic and now he’s likely going to be given the chance that Walcott didn’t receive in 2006, by being used in a major tournament. Having Walcott alongside him to offer advice along the way could prove to be invaluable in his development as a footballer.
Euro 2012 won’t necessarily make or break Oxlade-Chamberlain as a player, no matter how he performs. But it’s a great opportunity to prove he’s got the mental toughness to deal with the outcome.