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As he turns 30, a look at Theo Walcott's weird and disappointing career

The Everton attacker has never quite fulfilled the promise that saw him randomly called up to the 2006 World Cup.

SATURDAY IS A significant cultural moment in England: it’s the day Jeremy in Peep Show cashes in on the rights to his ‘Three-O Walcott’ tabloid headline

Walcott is 30 on Saturday; a staging post for the twilight of a deeply weird career.

Having made precisely zero appearances for Arsenal after joining from Southampton at the start of 2006, he was inexplicably included in Sven Goran-Eriksson’s squad for the World Cup.

“He had no right to be there”, growled Steven Gerrard in the only mildly controversial sentence of his first book. Sven soothed that “it’s a gamble, but it is a nice one”, while Theo himself was as surprised as anybody, turning on his phone after sitting his driving test to find a deluge of messages telling him he was off to the World Cup.

He hasn’t been at one since.

Fabio Capello surprisingly chopped him from the squad for the 2010 World Cup to accommodate Shaun Wright-Phillips, a cruciate ligament injury sustained in the FA Cup against Spurs ruled him out of Brazil 2014 while he wasn’t in contention for last summer’s tournament in Russia.

Looking back, Walcott’s selection for the first World Cup foretold this latest age of football indulgence, in which the biggest clubs are eager to bet big on relatively unproven talent; Barcelona spending up to €86 million on Frenkie De Jong (prior to his Bernabeu masterclass) the latest example.

As Walcott turns 30 and toils away at an Everton squad whose ambition has been hemmed in by their rivals’ riches and their own mediocrity, it is tempting to write him off as the last failure of England’s Golden Generation.

That’s not entirely fair, though.

Sure, Walcott didn’t follow after Wayne Rooney into the mould of Wonderkid Done Good, and nor did he have his promise as conspicuously thwarted as Michael Owen’s.

Instead he trundled along: rarely terrible, occasionally brilliant and generally…grand.

SOCCER England Walcott with Sven and John Terry ahead of the 2006 World Cup. Source: PA Archive/PA Images

There were some fabulous moments at Arsenal, one of them leading Lionel Messi to say that “he was one of the most dangerous players I have ever played against” after his introduction to a 2010 Champions League knock-out game at the Emirates saw Arsenal somehow claw back a 2-0 deficit.

There was another sparkling moment at Anfield two years earlier. With seven minutes remaining, Arsenal were heading out of the Champions League quarter-final until Steven Gerrard sliced at a volley on the edge of the area.

Walcott picked up possession, scampered and slalomed past six players before cutting the ball back for Emmanuel Adebayor to seemingly send Arsenal through to the semi-finals. “The difference! The difference! Theo Walcott!” screamed Clive Tyldesley on ITV.

Sadly for Walcott, Clive was wrong: the difference was Kolo Toure, who fouled Ryan Babel in the box a minute later to give Liverpool a penalty to progress.

On reflection, perhaps the Arsenal move was the wrong one for Walcott. He arrived at a time when Arsene Wenger’s record at improving young players went into decline. Of the players signed along with or after Walcott, how many fulfilled their potential under Wenger?

Robin Van Persie for sure, and perhaps Aaron Ramsey.

Others like Serge Gnabry and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain improved elsewhere, while Walcott fell victim to the stasis that enveloped the club.

He was caught between playing centrally and out wide, and was often at his best playing centrally: a relatively consistent run in that position in 2012/13 yielded 21 goals.

The cruciate ligament injury definitely affected his progress at Arsenal, but he retained a reasonable scoring record and ultimately left last January among the top-20 goalscorers in the club’s history.

Yet there was usually a sense of dissatisfaction around Walcott, a feeling that he never quite achieved what he might have. At Everton he has thus far been a disappointment, and has scored just six times in 42 games.

Arsenal v Everton - Premier League - Emirates Stadium Walcott during a recent return to the Emirates with Everton. Source: Mike Egerton

At Goodison he has been used as a right-winger, stationed wide in Marco Silva’s 4-2-3-1. That the manager has used Richarlison – rather than Walcott – as the striker during the weeks he runs out of patience with Cenk Tosun and Calvert-Lewin shows how firmly cast Walcott has become in a wider role.

This was once Walcott’s desire, saying with some exasperation at Arsenal in 2017 that he wanted to “make my position on the right – that’s where I know where I am now. I’ve told the manager that I want to be known for playing on the right again, although I can play up front. “The manager has said I can play up front. It depends on what game it is.”

That it became an either/or for Walcott is curious, as he had the skill-set to mesh the roles and thrive as a wide attacker in a 4-3-3, the position in which the likes of Eden Hazard, Raheem Sterling and Mohamed Salah excel in.

While Walcott is not in their class, perhaps if he had better injury luck and been inured in this role from an earlier stage – even away from Arsenal – that 2006 World Cup call-up would not look like such an aberration.

Premier League fixtures (kick off 3pm unless stated)

Saturday 

West Ham v Huddersfield 

Burnley v Leicester 

Bournemouth v Newcastle 

Sunday 

Fulham v Liverpool (2.15pm) 

Everton v Chelsea (4.30pm) 

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About the author:

Gavin Cooney

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