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|Birthday||March 16, 1989|
At the age of just 17, Walcott was thrust into the national spotlight when he was named in England’s squad for the 2006 World Cup and became the country’s youngest ever player in a pre-tournament friendly. Four years later, his shock exclusion from Fabio Capello’s selection for the 2010 finals gave weight to accusations that his career has stagnated at Arsenal. Certainly, Walcott’s career has not been short of incident.
Signed from Southampton as a raw 16-year-old in January 2006, Walcott had not made a senior appearance for the Gunners when Sven-Goran Eriksson, on the advice of Arsene Wenger, took him to Germany. He did not make an appearance at the World Cup but the forward broke into the Arsenal first-team squad the following season and opened his account for the club in a 2-1 defeat to Chelsea in the final of the 2007 Carling Cup.
Sporadic starts followed over the next two seasons as the youngster, once described as the heir apparent to Thierry Henry, was used largely as a winger by Wenger. However, fitness problems began to take their toll on Walcott, particularly in the 2008-09 and 2009-10 campaigns as he was restricted to only 28 league starts over the two seasons, and his development was not as rapid as expected. A tally of nine goals in 86 games from his first three seasons in the first team did not represent the excellence that some had hoped for.
Though he has shown flashes of brilliance – his famous run against Liverpool in the Champions League, a hat-trick for England against Croatia, a sumptuous finish against Villarreal and a thrilling impact in a Champions League tie against Barcelona in 2010 – Walcott has struggled for consistency and needs to cast aside his fitness problems and prove he can live up to the considerable hype.
While debate rages on over the potential of Walcott, and whether he will ever fulfil it, the forward’s stats over the 2010-11 and 2011-12 season demonstrate a decent return, with 24 goals netted in all competitions. He remains susceptible to injury, however.
Strengths: Walcott has the pace of a sprinter and could have taken up athletics. He can make a real impact as a substitute and strike fear into an opposition defence with his speed, movement and dribbling, either on the wing or as a striker.
Weaknesses: His final product can be frustratingly inconsistent, whether crossing, finishing or passing, while he all too often runs with his head down and straight into opponents. Walcott has been accused of lacking intelligence on the pitch.
Career high: A remarkable performance in a World Cup qualifier against Croatia in September 2008 as he scored a hat-trick for Fabio Capello’s England.
Career low: His shock exclusion from the 23-man England squad that travelled to the 2010 finals in South Africa.
Style: Pacy, direct, enthusiastic, a tricky forward/winger.
Quotes: “Theo is not only a quality player but he can have an impact when he comes on. However you have to live with the verdict. I’ve had a little text exchange with Theo and he will bounce back. In fact I think it will make him even more determined for next season. He is a very level-headed guy and very strong.” Arsene Wenger on Walcott’s World Cup disappointment, June 2010..
Trivia: Walcott’s family made a cameo appearance in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, but the player himself had to withdraw due to his commitments with England Under-21s and Arsenal.