In Crisis, Opportunity
Theo Walcott will undoubtedly be a very disappointed young man today. Much has been written about how supportive a family unit he has (I see his brother, his dad and his girlfriend sitting in amongst the supporters at every away match bar none) and he will doubtless be blanketing himself in their support once again. It marks a fascinating dichotomy that four years ago Walcott was the shock inclusion; this time around he is the headline exclusion. Such has been life in the fledgling career of Theo Walcott, everything he does creates headlines which is unusual for one so mild mannered.
But whilst Walcott may be wallowing in melancholy this evening, I hope he sees this blow to his personal pride as a challenge. That`s what separates good footballers from great footballers, mentality. That`s why Zinedine Zidane`s name will echo in the annals of football history, whilst the names Gascoigne and Ronaldinho will be footnotes for what might have been had they concentrated on their skills as opposed to more Bacchalian pursuits. Walcott is a player that still has his flaws and despite his tender years, it feels like we have been waiting for him to explode. We thought the sixty yard run at Anfield might be the catalyst, some felt the hat trick in Zagreb would light the blue touch paper- I thought for a moment the substitute appearance against Barcelona at home, where he transformed the game, might be the making of him. Yet these seemingly epoch making moments have only ever transpired to be flashes of lightning in a summer night sky. However, you get the feeling that definitely, this time, how Theo reacts to this rejection will be the making or breaking of the young man.
Walcott will experience something very rare and alien to him this summer, though the focus of attention may be on him for the next 24-48 hours, once the players board the plane to South Africa, he will be out of the spotlight, forced to look on from the shadows like Mersault on his doorstep. This reflective time out of the spotlight could do Theo the power of good for a number of reasons. Firstly, he might have to negotiate the anger phase. It is here he might consider how his manager warned him not to take part in a stupid U-21 tournament last summer. England committed the ridiculous folly of selecting him for two summer qualifiers for the full side and then for a meaningless junior tournament. Wenger presciently warned: "'I don't want to stop Theo from playing for the Under-21s, but during the holiday period, they should choose one or the other. I have let them know that it is not logical that he plays for the first team and the Under-21s during the holiday period, they finish on June 28 and we start training on July 6. Of course he wants to play, and I can understand that as well.'
Wenger phoned Walcott twice advising him not to play for both sides, after a long season with Arsenal, playing a full schedule of matches for two different teams during the summer break a year before a World Cup was always going to be a stupid idea. The ramifications on Walcott`s fitness would be obvious and so it proved, Theo never really got into his stride after a procession of niggling injuries. The great irony is, after years of Wenger being xenophobically derided for not doing enough to develop English talent, it was the England team themselves that destroyed the form and fitness of their own player. It has been the media that has most rabidly tried to diminish the player they hyped up to pathetically unrealistic expectations that has torn apart his every move in an England shirt, whilst other players apparently not rated (Heskey, Carrick, Barry) are not pored over with quite the same delightful zeal, the same sense that the whole nation is willing them to fail. Walcott might consider now that he`s been playing to wrong crowd, I hope in future he listens to Wenger and tries to please the paymaster. Wenger`s tutelage of young players is peerless and Walcott would do well to follow his words, in trying to please everybody in life, you often please no-one. Listen to Arsene first Theo and the rest will come along.
That said, I happen to think the decision to leave Walcott out is the wrong one from England`s point of view. There`s no doubting that he can be a frustratingly inconsistent player, but I fail to see what Wright Phillips and Lennon have ever done on the big stage to suggest they could set South Africa alight. Lennon is a good player who can cut your average clogger from Bolton or Hull City to ribbons. But Walcott has a history of big game contributions- Barcelona, Liverpool in Europe, A,C. Milan, Chelsea at Wembley and in Cardiff as well as Zagreb. Lennon does not have that kind of decoration on his CV yet. At the very least Walcott is your ideal impact sub, if England are losing to Germany with ten minutes to go of a World Cup Quarter Final and you need to change the game, would you look to Wright Phillips or Walcott? We know Wright Phillips is average, we know Theo is inconsistent, but who is more likely to dash past three defenders in the last minute and save the game? That said, Capello is one of the world`s best coaches and I believe his choices deserve respect- even if I would have taken Walcott myself.
But England`s loss can be Arsenal`s gain. With the summer off, Walcott can come back fresh and raring to go next season, sans the physical and mental fatigue, away from the bitching of England`s hysterical support and hopefully with a fresh outlook and a healthier body. The setback should be used as fuel to succeed and prove himself, to work on his flaws away from the oppressive spotlight. To this end, it is easy to forget that Samir Nasri suffered a similar disgruntlement as Raymond Domenech shunned him for the French squad. Nasri too is a player who began the season with injury and who frustrated with the impression that he was capable of greater consistency to match his devastating skill set. Nasri too has the same motivations and frustrations and opportunities for reflection as Walcott. From Arsenal`s point of view, this means that two of Arsenal`s most used attacking weapons will spend the summer with their feet up and the minds burning with injustice. Nasri and Walcott are both of an age where opportunity will knock once more.Neither will even be in their prime by the time of the 2014 World Cup. Ally this to the fact that Arshavin, Eduardo and Rosicky`s respective countries aren`t South Africa bound and Arsenal should have a very fresh attack when we kick the season off in August. The best thing we can do is show our support to the likes of Nasri and Walcott come August and hope that their frustrations bear the fruits and sow the seeds of our delight.LD.
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