Theo Walcott is a phenomenon: like Pele, he was selected for a WorldCup squad at 17; he is a player who terrified the world's greatestteam, Barcelona, only last season; and he is a key member ofpotentially one of the finest sides to grace the Premier League andEngland to boot.
Yet for an unfailingly polite, engaging young man, Walcott attracts a degree of animosity.
He has no football brain, according to Chris Waddle, an initiallyhonest observation that quickly became a cliche; he has never played agame at a World Cup, unlike Pele, who had won the tournament at 17; hisfinishing and his crossing, it is said, are lacking for a top-classplayer.
Superficially, the man himself is remarkably equable about the dichotomy.
The criticism from Waddle? He hesitates only for a moment: 'Well,ah, you know I just like to just, you know .' he says, beforereaching for the considered retort . 'do my talking on the pitch.That's all I can do. There's no point whingeing.
'Everyone is entitled to their opinion. I do think if you're 21,playing professionally and starting for Arsenal . it's not a badstart. Most players don't get the opportunity to play until they're 25and 26. Football has changed.'
Walcott does not mention it but it is perhaps instructive to notethat Waddle was playing for Tow Law Town in the Northern League at 20and made his England debut at 24.
Football has indeed changed. In former times, a player such asWalcott might have had to wait another two or three years before beingacknowledged as one of the faces of English football.
The desperation to acclaim young players, by clubs fearful of missing out and media searching for the great new hope, means - as Walcott accepts - that he has been fast-tracked to iconic status.
'Totally,' he says.
Critic: Chris waddle said Walcott had no footballing brain
A measure of the nature of modern celebrity is that he is reluctant to go to the university bar with his girlfriend Melanie Slade, who is studying physiotherapy at the University of London.
'It's one of those thing that I want to do with Mel but people always have phones and cameras,' he says wistfully.
Yet despite such a gilded upbringing, just occasionally he displays a glimpse of the hurt and determination that appear to drive him. It comes in reference to the greatest setback of his career to date, the day last summer when he received a mobile phone call from Fabio Capello while on the golf course.
The line was so bad he had to ring back. On the end of the line was an apologetic England manager, explaining in broken English why Walcott would not be part of his World Cup squad in South Africa.
'I was speechless,' he says. 'I didn't know what to do. I didn't blame anyone else. I just looked at myself as I didn't do enough to earn my place there. This season I'm starting to show spells.'
But did he feel he had not played well enough?
'Well, obviously the manager thought that, so I have to look at myself. I have to improve on my game and make sure it doesn't happen again. I don't want to be left out of big tournaments,' says Walcott.
'I had a nice break in the summer,' he adds, ironically.
'I didn't want a break but I hadn't had a break since starting to play football - I wanted to be at the World Cup, obviously. I just want to prove people wrong.'
It is a passing phrase but telling. Beneath the well-mannered exterior and the measured words, Walcott still appears stung by the setback and, like most successful sportsmen, determined to prove Capello, Waddle and anyone else who has doubted him, wrong.
Dreams shattered: Fabio Capello dropped Walcott
He was recalled to Capello's first post- World Cup squad after the South Africa debacle and sought out the England coach for an explanation, his account of which belies the stereotype that the Italian is aloof and unapproachable.
'I just went after training,' says Walcott, who was a second-half substitute yesterday as Arsenal beat Fulham 2-1 to go top of the table.
'He's always there. Any players who want to go up to him and speak to him, we're always welcome to do that. You want that in a manager, you want to be comfortable around him so he can get his message out.
'He did explain but I'd like to keep that to myself. I had a couple of conversations with him. I just wanted to know what to do, so it didn't happen again.'
Significantly, he went back to the training ground. 'Being a bit older (he's 21!), I'm just looking after my body a bit better in the gym,' he says.
'After training, I'm practising every day, crossing and finishing. I used to do that sort of in patches. This year it has been more consistent. It's paying off so far so I'm just going to continue doing that through my career and look after myself.'
Walcott is a rare breed among professionals.
He played his first game of football at the age of 10 and had not even played much in the playground before then.
It is a fact cited when commentators consider him more athlete than footballer.
Alan Hansen is another who has criticised the crossing and finishing, both of which have notably improved this season.
'The practice has helped, as well as watching David Beckham (crossing) in training. We're different players: he doesn't like to beat players, he just likes to get the ball in the box,' he says.
Future is bright: Walcott has a promising international career ahead of him
'It's difficult when you're running at such pace to cross it and, if there's no-one in there . . . at times at Arsenal we don't always get players in there, although with Marouane Chamakh up front it has changed. Hopefully people are starting to realise a bit more it's not just bad delivery at times but the need to pull into space and make sure someone is there.
'On goals, I want to get to double figures, my target is between 15- 20 and I'm on seven, so I should hopefully get there.
'I want to try to push on now. I think I need to. I'm 21 but people still forget it's very difficult to play for Arsenal. To be 21 and playing for Arsenal is a very good achievement.'
As he acknowledges, trophies will be the mark of whether he is truly great or not.
This week, Arsenal, who have not won a trophy for five-and-a-half years, progressed to the Carling Cup semi-finals.
On Wednesday, they face Partizan Belgrade in a game they have to win to be sure of progressing to the latter stages of the Champions League and this month they face Manchester United and Chelsea, a test of whether their title credentials are genuine.
'It doesn't matter what cup it is, you want to look back at your career and the amount of trophies you've won,' he says.
'This is our season to bring something back to the fans because they have waited quite a long time. It would be brilliant to be in a final and then, going that step further, actually holding a trophy up.'
On a personal level, Walcott needs to prove he is a trophy-winning player.
'Definitely. My house is a bit bare at the moment. I just have a few runner-ups and England awards from younger days,' he says.
Add some winners' medals and even Waddle and Hansen might be impressed.
Walcott honoured to help Bobby Moore fund Honoured: Theo Walcott and Stephanie Moore
Theo Walcott says he has been honoured to support The Bobby Moore fund, one of the charities supported by the England national team, because of the magnitude of the World Cup-winning captain's reputation.
Appearing at the Bobby Moore quiz night with Bobby's widow, Stephanie - an evening to raise awareness of bowel cancer - Walcott said: 'With Bobby being such a legend it has been great to help out with the charity.'
Stephanie Moore said: 'When Bobby died, I learned about bowel cancer and that more men die of cancer than women because they don't receive health messages. With Bobby's footballing legacy, we could raise awareness because it's treatable if diagnosed early.
'The England team donate their match fees and have appeared in campaigns.
'They've been magnificent.'
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Explore more:People: David Beckham, Fabio Capello, Theo Walcott, Marouane Chamakh Places: Barcelona, United Kingdom, South Africa