Tuesday 16 January 2018

Being in bad books does nothing for Walcott's game

Aidan O'Hara

Aidan O'Hara

About four years ago, a group of journalists went to London to meet the Irish women who were helping Arsenal's ladies team towards a Champions League title and -- unlike the men -- giving the cleaners at London Colney some silverware to polish. Then, from the players' car park, Theo Walcott emerged in his personalised number plated Volkswagen. Nothing terribly exciting in that but given that the autobiography he released last week stretches to 320 pages, there's a few reporters who'll be thumbing through in the hope of seeing their names mentioned.

"Saw group of unathletic, cynical and pasty looking people after training today. Thought about it a lot on the way home."

Boring as that sounds, there has to be some way that a 22-year-old footballer of debatable talent can make his life story last 320 pages.

"Was fast and scored goals when I was young. Played for Southampton, moved to Arsenal. Was happy. Got picked for World Cup squad. Was shocked. Didn't play. Wasn't shocked.

"Scored in Carling Cup final. Lost. Nearly won a Champions League game for Arsenal with amazing run against Liverpool but defence messed up again. Wasn't surprised. Scored hat-trick for England against Croatia. Was happy. Didn't get picked for 2010 World Cup. Was sad."

There's 73 crisp words to sum up Walcott's career, but, beyond that, other than the people who are close to him and probably know it all already, who really cares?

The autobiographies of footballers tend to fall into two categories -- the journeyman pro who needs some scandal to sell his book because nobody really noticed him in his career, and the very successful player who chronicles it in a "we were disappointed to lose/the boys done well" gloomy tome.

Occasionally, players with a good career and something to say meet a writer with the skill to put it on paper. But for every superb Tony Adams, Tony Cascarino or Paul McGrath story, there are dozens that are page-turners only because the poor reader is desperate to know how much more they have to endure.

From a young age we are told never to judge a book by its cover, which, in Walcott's case, has a title of 'Growing Up Fast' on top of a picture of him running fast (it works on at least two levels). Yet while judging a book by its cover might be dangerous, serialised excerpts are usually more reliable. Judge for yourselves from Walcott's training camp tale.

"It was the second day, and I made a run inside from my position out wide on the right. Suddenly, Mr Capello started screaming at me at the top of his voice. 'Theo,' he was yelling. 'I will kill you if you come inside like that again.'

"Despite Mr Capello's outburst, I never quite knew what was required of me. I was confused. I had been injured so much that season that my confidence was fragile, but no one helped me. If you are the boss, surely you want everyone playing well and you want to encourage everyone. It killed me and I felt it wasn't fair."

The story of a confused, fragile but very fast 21-year-old who wants people to help him could be a decent plot, but in order to have any chance of playing under the Italian for this campaign, it is, of course, watered down within a couple of paragraphs so that the reader is assured that things are much better in the camp this time around.

Terrible

Like one good song on a terrible album, the 'Walcott slams Capello' headline might tempt somebody to buy the book but search desperately for the receipt once they read the rest of it. Walcott seems like a nice guy and a better player than he is sometimes given credit for, but at some point surely somebody could have explained the folly of trying to make a quick buck under the guise of 'lifting the lid' while producing so little on the pitch to justify it.

On Saturday, with Arsenal needing a goal, Arsene Wenger decided that this might be the day that Nicklas Bendtner finally became as good as he thinks he is and hauled Walcott ashore after another performance, in perfect Arsenal style, of potential with no end product.

Those who think Walcott's time might have been better served working on his final ball rather than telling his life story now have a 320-page hardback to beat him with. And if, on Saturday, Wenger didn't explain his reasoning for substituting him, there's the danger of an even more confused and fragile Walcott bringing us volume two.

With age taking its toll, he might just call this one 'Growing Up'.

Irish Independent

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