Where it all went wrong for Walcott

Fabio Capello might as well have asked Steve McClaren to pick his England squad for the World Cup this summer; it was about as grey as that famous picture of the ex-England manager standing blank-faced under his umbrella. Somehow though, Sky Sports were bursting at the seams with excitement as the selection news came through. Darren Bent, Adam Johnson and more surprisingly Theo Walcott were all left out. Instead, Capello opted for safety and stayed out of the rain himself by naming a few of the likely lads.
Where did Theo go so wrong? Or, was it a case of where did it all go wrong for Theo? If you believe in the saying ‘when you want something done, then it’s best to do it for yourself’, then you will say Walcott only has himself to blame for not grasping a right-sided squad place with enough intent. It’s not like he wasn’t given the air-time and by the well-mannered message for Capello after hearing the bad news, well, it all seemed a little que sara sara.
Even so, instinct tells me there was room for Theo on the plane to South Africa. Yes, we all know his final ball is lacking. How tempting it must have been for Arsenal fans to sprint on the pitch after one of his over-hit crosses, slam the ball down and show him how it’s done. That, or grab him by the shoulders and shake the boy to life. There have been moments of greatness and there’s always the feeling a repeat is coming. Regardless of all this though, Theo’s pace is frightening, and in the modern game among a squad of 23, surely there is room for such an outlet.
Why doesn’t somebody sign Usain Bolt then? These are the kind of things I’ve heard. Walcott isn’t completely useless is he? But like Bolt, his speed is something to behold. It might seem insignificant now, but in those moments late on in games where a run inside the full-back is needed, or a desperate long ball behind the defence calls for a runner, then pace is the answer. It can also be used to push the opposition midfield back and relieve pressure, used as a forward option to sprint the ball into corners and waste time, or even made into an energetic defensive tool, just like Jose Mourinho used substitute Mario Balotelli for Inter Milan in the Champions League this year.
Think this would be a waste of a space then? Definitely not. In fact, I’d say Capello hasn’t made the most of the legroom given to him, and with a little reshuffling England could have found some bed-space for Walcott. Why take both Jamie Carragher and Matthew Upson? If Capello rates the Liverpool man so highly, then take him as cover for centre-back and right-back and leave Upson at home. Ledley King is another receiving the managers accolades, also defensive cover who can play in-front of the midfield. In that case why not leave behind Michael Carrick (presuming we believe Gareth Barry will be fit as they tell us)?
Obviously Capello isn’t into making cuts like his adopted country is right now, but if he was then that’s already two extra spaces made available. The reason for this reorganisation would only be for bringing in players who offer something different; those who can be a threat for short periods of time, otherwise it would be pointless and moving players around could go on forever. Walcott is that exclusivity, and with the other space, I might even have been inclined to tell Scott Parker to pack a toothbrush.
If Walcott was Brazilian, I can’t help but think they would have channelled his skill into something that could set a World Cup alight. Can we put Ashley Young into the same category? The dreaded left wing; a position cursed for decades and then comes along the most natural puzzle-piece to fill it in, but what happens? We get bored of the jigsaw and totally ignore Young. Perhaps that is being too harsh on the England set-up and maybe in Theo’s case, it’s Arsenal who never worked hard enough to at least dress him for such an occasion.
Consequently the tournament will pass Walcott by, although one key moment during the Mexico game told me it was doomed from the start. Theo made a direct jinxing run from the right side of the pitch towards the penalty area. Worried, the Mexican defenders had backed off; Theo looked up, but played Wayne Rooney in too late and the flag was raised for offside. What had been a simple pass for a straightforward goal was gone. This wasn’t the problem. The game was an easy enough friendly. Rooney’s reaction though was to puff his cheeks, roll his eyes and turn his back on Walcott.
Our television screens are currently painted with scenes of a patriotic England, many of them crafted by the tabloids, those people who advertise being fully behind the team and in the same instance entrap John Terry’s dad into dealing cocaine. Chocolate bars and beer brands are also campaigning for a united England, yet the players themselves can’t seem to act alike. When Rooney wouldn’t acknowledge Walcott’s efforts, it was obvious where he stood, and I was left imagining Capello’s dressing room in which the refined Walcott just didn’t quite fit.
Back to the question then: did Theo get it wrong, or did it all go wrong for Theo? The latter can be argued, but there’s no point dwelling on it now. The best professionals do indeed get it done for themselves whatever obstacles get in their way. Rooney, Terry, and Steven Gerrard have all had their names tarnished off the pitch after careless acts of womanising and fighting, but look, they are always at the airport browsing at the duty free.
A boulder fell in Walcott’s path on Tuesday and subsequently he missed the plane. Thankfully he has the time to move it aside and catch the next flight to the European Champions in 2012. And the biggest difference is that Walcott has the intelligence not to fall for the same temptations as Terry and friends did. With no distractions off the pitch, Walcott will conquer the problems on it, proving that he is the most talented “one-trick pony” Martin Keown has ever seen.

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