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How Arsenal star Theo Walcott tumbled from being the best to joining the rest

02 Jun 2010 00:43:22

How Arsenal star Theo Walcott tumbled from being the best to joining the rest

When the phonecall came, it hitTheo Walcott asif it was asledgehammer. Four years after Sven GoranEriksson had stunned him by invitinghim along to a World Cup,Fabio Capello did the same byleaving him at home. Walcott did not expect to hearfrom Capello yesterday. He was onthe golf course when the Englandmanager made contact to tell himhis services were not required inSouth Africa.  Shouting the odds: Fabio Capello called Walcott our best talent after his hat trick in Zagreb As he dug the mobilefrom his pocket his stomach musthave sunk.Like many others , theArsenal winger believed starting inthe warm-up friendlies againstMexico and Japan had been a positivesign, but it was the opposite. He was actually being given thechance to play his way back intotop form.When he didn't fire, playingpoorly against Japan on Sunday,Capello took one of the big decisionshe is paid £6million a year tomake. He axed the starlet heranked ahead of Wayne Rooney littlemore than a year ago. 'Theo Walcott is our besttalent,' the England manager tolda League Managers' Associationdinner in February 2009, fivemonths after Walcott's hat-trick inCroatia, which inspired the qualifyingcampaign for this tournamentand wiped away the dismalmemory of Euro 2008. Heads you lose: Walcott has missed out on the World Cup squad Since that glorious night inZagreb, little has gone right forWalcott. Injuries played havoc withhis progress but should Englandtake some of the blame for jeopardisingthe development of one oftheir most thrilling prospects? Arsenal manager Arsene Wengerhas long been unhappy with theFA's treatment of Walcott, a simmeringdiscontent which eruptedlast summer when Capello pickedthe winger for two World Cup qualifiersin June before sending himwith Stuart Pearce to the EuropeanUnder 21 Championships inSweden. 'If Walcott is burned out, they willsuffer as well,' said Wenger. 'There'sa World Cup at the end of the seasonand, if there's no summerbreak, it will not work. We askalways that the guy plays only forone team.' Having fought so hard to get Walcottto Sweden, Pearce droppedhim for the tournament's secondgame. 'Of course I was angry,' said Walcottat the time. 'I just wanted tobe shown a bit of support for beingthere.' Wenger gave him extended summerleave but he broke down witha lower back problem on his returnto Arsenal duty, a friendly againstValencia. Side strains, knee injuriesand hamstring problems allfollowed as he missed the first halfof the season. Too much too young?: Theo Walcott was a shock inclusion in the 2008 World Cup campaign 'I know how it works,' saidWenger. 'The player comes backlater than everybody else, hedoesn't have a decent preparation,you are under pressure to rush himback, you play him earlier than youshould, he gets an injury and yousee him again in October. 'That's why I was adamant he didnot go to the Under 21s. He has nopreparation for the season and, inthe end, England will pay the priceas well.' It is easy to visualise Wengerraising his 'told-you-so' eyebrow,but the Arsenal manager will takelittle satisfaction from his player'somission, not least because of theimpact such a shock could have onWalcott's confidence. A form of psychological rehabilitationwas required four years agoafter Eriksson, seduced by Walcott'sblistering pace after witnessinga couple of Arsenal trainingsessions, picked him for the WorldCup. The teenager was doing hisdriving theory test when theannouncement was made. Having joined Arsenal fromSouthampton five months earlier,Walcott had yet to play in theBarclays Premier League but hebecame England's youngest everplayer when he came on in a pre tournamentfriendly against Hungaryaged 17 years and 75 days. Then, in Germany, he was virtuallyignored, left to enjoy the experience,film his video diaries andplay snooker with Rooney. Erikssonseemed to realise a mistakehad been made and cast himaside.Walcott, reflecting on hisdiaries, said: 'You can graduallysee my morale going down, lowerand lower, because I came to realiseI wasn't going to play.' Although he readily admits nowthat he didn't deserve his WorldCup call ahead of the likes of JermainDefoe, the episode left Walcottconfused and, having beencatapulted into the national spotlight,under intense scrutiny.  Stopped in his tracks: Injuries have curtailed Walcott's progress His Premier League debut wasticked off. Then his first Arsenalgoal and his second England cap,which came two years after hisfirst. Steve McClaren did not pickhim once. It was Capello whorecalled him and sent him on as asubstitute in a friendly away toTrinidad and Tobago.In four years since his debut, hehas been limited to 11 caps and thethree he scored in the Croatiancapital in September 2008 remainhis only goals. Former Englandwinger Chris Waddle says Walcotthas 'no football brain', but his purepace can terrorise defenders. Ask those at Barcelona, whocould not control him as he triggereda comeback in the first leg ofthis season's Champions Leaguequarter-final at the Emirates.  Come again: Theo Walcott must now pick himself up ahead of next season Walcott has been particularlyinfluential for Arsenal from thebench as he was that night maybe even more so than Joe Coleor Shaun Wright-Phillips, widemenwho got the nod from Capellodespite failing to hold a regularstarting place for their clubs. When England need a goal in agame which is drifting away, aninjection of Walcott's exhilaratingspeed is an attractive option,which is why he probably expectedto go to South Africa, at least inthe role of an impact substitute. He was not happy with his performanceagainst Japan on Sundaybut was not alone and, like histeam-mates, he blamed it on heavylegs after a gruelling fortnightunder England's army of fitnessand conditioning experts. While not complacent, whenWalcott stepped out on the golfcourse yesterday, he was more concernedabout his slice than the Capello chop.  WORLD CUP 2010: Theo Walcott axed from England squad as Fabio Capello confirms his chosen 23 Captain Ferdinand backs Gerrard and Lampard to line up in World Cup openerFabio Capello's staying: England coach to sign deal before leaving


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