Comment - Why Theo Walcott has become a symbol of everything that is wrong with English football
In so many ways, Theo Walcott has become a symbol of English football’s mediocrity.
After it was confirmed that his 12-year stay at Arsenal has come to an end following a £20m move to Everton, reflections on a story that is all too familiar in the English game will now begin and the judgment on Walcott unlikely to be favourable.
England’s desperation to identify their ‘next big thing’ has affected so many of their rising stars over the last few decades, with Walcott one of many bestowed that unfortunate title when he was named in England’s 2006 World Cup squad after playing just 13 games of football at senior level.
He had not even played for Arsenal following his move from Southampton in January of that year, yet deluded England coach Sven Goran-Eriksen saw it fit to pick the 17-year-old in a squad on a whim that sparked a familiar clamour to crown Walcott as the new star of world football.
Tabloid newspapers looked into his private life, serious sports reporters tried to find out information on a kid who had barely been seen on a sporting field and, somewhat inevitably, the euphoria surrounding the call-up was quickly doused by the reality that Walcott was, in fact, not talented enough to live up to his billing.
He has scored more than 100 goals for Arsenal and played 47 times for England, but Walcott’s career has been encapsulated by moments of brilliance rather than sustained periods of class.
He has produced the odd great goal - with his opener in the 2015 FA Cup final against Aston Villa a notable high point - served up moments of magic that have given a hint of his potential, but the reality is that Walcott is little more than a player who should be playing for a mid-table Premier League team and he may well have found his level after the switch to Everton.
Walcott’s demise has mirrored a similar slide in fortunes for Arsenal since their glory days under Arsene Wenger at the start of this century, with his failure to flourish under the guidance of a manager who lost his Midas touch long ago a story that has been repeated by so many at the club in recent years.
Walcott has been jeered and cheered by Arsenal fans over the last dozen years, with his inconsistencies and tendency to miss clear chances in front of goal adding up to an infuriating mix for those looking on.
He believed he could follow in Thierry Henry’s footsteps by becoming a lead striker at Arsenal. He was also used in wide roles and as an attacking midfielder, but rarely did he confirm he was good enough to win major trophies for the Gunners.
If anything, Walcott has regressed in recent years as his career stumbled due to a succession of injuries and dips in form, with Wenger unable to halt his slide and finally giving up on him last summer when he made it clear that he would not be part of his plans for this season.
Walcott has led Arsenal’s efforts in the Europa League this season, but serving up unimpressive displays in Europe’s second string competition was not quite what the English media had in mind when they crowned their latest golden boy in the summer of 2006.
Walcott will now have a fresh chance to confirm he is good enough to take the Premier League by storm as he swaps Arsenal red for Everton blue.
History suggests we may be disappointed all over again.