Saturday 1 October 2016

Fatherhood has ensured Walcott is firing on all cylinders

The striker's next challenge is to reproduce his club form for England

Paul Wilson

Published 07/06/2015 | 02:30

Walcott scored the opening goal at Wembley to help Arsenal on their way to a consecutive FA Cup victory
Walcott scored the opening goal at Wembley to help Arsenal on their way to a consecutive FA Cup victory

Theo Walcott, to use his own expression, is buzzing at the moment. He scored the opening goal at Wembley to help Arsenal win the FA Cup, travels to Dublin hopeful of getting another run in his preferred centre-forward position with England this afternoon, and, best of all, knows that if his one-year-old son spots him on the TV he will point at the screen and say "Daddy".

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"That alone is brilliant," the Arsenal striker says, admitting fatherhood has taken him pleasantly by surprise. "I'm going into games thinking differently now. As in, I'm going to do it for Finley. I've always wanted to do it for the fans and the family, but when there's part of you there it's different. You don't want to let your little dude down."

Walcott's little dude is showing early signs of not wanting to let his dad down either. "He's kicking a ball now, and I haven't even been making him," he says. "I've got some great footage on my phone of him half-volleying the ball, I'll show you if you like (Walcott produces his phone and plays quite an impressive clip to a roomful of hardened sports hacks who swell with parental pride on his behalf). I've already shown Arsene Wenger. He wanted to know if he had an agent. He's blessed."

Issues following Finley's birth were the reason Walcott was not present at last year's FA Cup final. He was also recovering from injury and would not have been able to play, but in the event did not even travel with the party. "I missed out on all the celebrations," he says. "That was tough but on the other hand I didn't miss out on anything surrounding the birth of my son. In that sense the injury came at a great time, but I was still grateful that Carl Jenkinson facetimed me from the Wembley celebrations. That was a fantastic touch. That shows the unity in the squad."

Walcott knew it would take time to come back to his best after being out for the best part of a year with a cruciate injury but was prepared to be patient. It all came together for him at the end of the season, when a hat-trick in the last league game against West Brom not only prompted Wenger to let him continue leading the attack at Wembley but brought an observation from the manager that his finishing had improved.

"I knew I might have to wait for my opportunity, but when it arrived I managed to take it," Walcott says. "The manager showed faith in me by playing me up top in the final, but I don't think he had much choice, coming off the back of the performance the week before. Sometimes things don't go to plan, but in that last league game everything went my way. I haven't really been working on my finishing, though I would always practise. I've had a long time out and there are players such as Alexis Sanchez who even practise on warm-down days. I would join in.

"I always try to be positive, but it is difficult after an injury to be positive straight away. At first you are reluctant to go into tackles or put a foot in, but all that is out of my head now. I'm not going to lie. When you have been out for such a long time and you fall on your knee you fear the worst, but after a while if nothing happens you begin to feel it is fine again after all. Everything comes into place.

"I think you produce your best performances when you are not thinking too much. It happens naturally, or at least that's what happened to me. The next challenge is to take my present form and reproduce it for England."

At 26, Walcott is already an England veteran, largely due to Sven-Goran Eriksson's ultimately fruitless gamble in introducing him to a World Cup squad as long ago as 2006. He has 38 caps to show for an international career that almost spans a decade, though the retirement of Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard leaves him among the senior members of Roy Hodgson's squad in spite of his relative youth.

"I've been around the England camp a long time, I feel very old," he says. "You suddenly realise the players you used to look up to, like Steve and Frank, are not there any more, and people are looking up to you. We are a young team again now. Wayne Rooney told me the other day that he feels very old when he joins up with England, but the main thing is that we play without fear and we are undefeated in eight games. We have been getting consistently good results. What we need to do now is take that into a tournament.

"I understand better than ever that football is about results. In a few years no one will remember who Arsenal beat to win the 2015 FA Cup, they will just remember the team that won. People don't remember how Germany played in every game last summer, they just remember them as World Cup winners. This is a young England squad, but the manager has made sure everyone knows their job. He has shown faith in me by bringing me back into the squad and I don't want to let anyone down. I feel my England career overall has been a bit patchy, for various reasons, and my aim is to reach a consistent level because I know what I can do for this team."

Wenger dismissed speculation over Walcott's future at Arsenal after the Cup final by saying there was no reason for him to play anywhere else and the player seems to feel the same way. "My club future is absolutely fine," he says. "I'll deal with the contract situation in summer, after the England games, because I don't want it as a distraction. It is important to concentrate on the now, I'll just leave my agent to sort out the details when the time comes.

"I've just reached 300 appearances for my club - not just any club but a top club like Arsenal - and that's a great achievement. I am incredibly proud of that, but if I can find the consistency I believe my best years may still be ahead."

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