It’s almost hard to believe that Theo Walcott is only 31 years old. It feels as though he has been around for donkey’s years, with his move from Southampton to Arsenal as a teenager occurring in the winter of 2006. With unlikely World Cup call-ups and injury woes to follow, it’s been an up and down career so far for the Englishman.
Now on loan at Southampton from Everton, Walcott’s career has come full circle after 15 years of, at times, frustration, and at other times, ecstasy. There is a feeling that Walcott has finally come home. St Mary’s is where he burst onto the scene and caught the eye of the footballing public with his magnificent performances and searing pace. It was enough to convince Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger to splash out an initial £5 million to secure the services of the then 16-year-old.
But even more surprising than his move to one of the biggest clubs in the country was the decision by England manager at the time Sven-Göran Eriksson to include him in his squad for the 2006 World Cup finals in Germany. It caused shockwaves through the English football landscape, with many surprised that Sven had sacrificed many more experienced players to bring the inexperienced Walcott on the plane.
Naturally, the young gun didn’t make a single appearance at the World Cup, despite England having injury trouble with both Wayne Rooney and Michael Owen. The justification Sven gave for including him was that it would stand him in good stead for future international tournaments, but England’s failure to reach Euro 2008, followed by Fabio Capello’s surprising decision to omit Walcott from his 2010 World Cup squad meant that Sven’s grand vision had been for nothing.
At Arsenal, it’s fair to say that Walcott never really hit the heights expected of him. He made a large number of appearances for the Gunners during his 12-year stay at the club, helping them become reliable picks in the football betting, but there was always a sense that he had more to give. Injuries hampered him greatly, and it seemed as though whenever he got on a good run of form, there was always an injury around the corner to thwart him.
The move to Everton was seen as a chance for Walcott to reinvent himself, and start afresh at a club where he would be expected to start most matches. But even at Goodison Park, Walcott struggled to make a real impact, and found it difficult to cement his place in the first team. The arrival of Carlo Ancelotti saw the 31-year-old fall further down the pecking order, and the Italian’s summer signing of James Rodríguez meant that Walcott was deemed surplus, eventually joining the Saints on loan.
“I had a few opportunities from other clubs, but as soon as Southampton came in for me, it’s part of me and has made me into the player I am. It’s in my heart,” said Walcott after completing his move. “I was seriously lost for words when Southampton came on the table, and for me it was such an easy decision.”
And he’s enjoyed a better time of it on the pitch than prior campaigns, playing his part in Southampton’s fine start to the season, which sees them challenging for the European places in the Premier League table.
Whatever you think about Walcott and his career, it’s clear that the expectation placed on his shoulders from his teenage years has weighed heavily. Now that he’s back where it all started, he’s playing with the kind of freedom that defined his youth. At 31, there is still time for Walcott to deliver on that supreme potential.