Tuesday 16 October 2018

Revitalised Walcott would have no issue celebrating if he can find Gunners' net

Walcott: Facing former club. Photo: Reuters
Walcott: Facing former club. Photo: Reuters

Matt Law

There was not a pause for thought or a moment's hesitation from Theo Walcott when he was asked whether he would celebrate scoring a goal against Arsenal.

"Yeah, I would," said Walcott, who will return to his former club with Everton tomorrow.

"I think the Arsenal fans will respect that as well.

"Why can't you enjoy scoring and celebrating a goal for your new team with your fans?

"They have travelled all that way, enjoy it, simple as that. Some players choose not to and that's fine, but it's just who I am. Celebrate with your mates and the fans, they are your fans now. I want to win."

There is no sense of bitterness in Walcott's words, just a genuine excitement about the latest chapter in his career after moving to Everton in January.

Walcott is determined to look forwards, believing he can beat some of his own personal achievements at Everton, collect more winners' medals and help his current club eventually surpass his old one.

But the move north, as a husband and father of two sons, has also put fresh perspective on the past and some of the life-changing moments that meant Walcott's will always be a career played in the spotlight.

Only this summer, as he and his wife, Mel, unpacked the contents of their lives, Walcott was reminded of a record that he believes may well go unbroken.

It was 10 years ago this month that Walcott, picked ahead of David Beckham by Fabio Capello, became the first teenager to score a hat-trick for England as he played against Croatia.

"Yeah, I saw that," said Walcott, now aged 29. "It's funny you mention that, because, moving house, I found the boots, some studs missing and a bit of turf on them.

"At first, I thought 'What the hell are these?' and then I realised they were the Croatia boots. That was mad, it's gone like that (clicks fingers). When I see pictures of it, I think 'baby face and the sideburns'. Most of the players from back then have now retired as well.

"It's incredible and I'm very proud of it. To be the youngest player to score a hat-trick for your country, that was just like… wow. Records are there to be beaten, but that's going to be really hard for anyone to beat. I'll keep the boots safe now."

Walcott had already been an England international for two years by the time he netted his Croatia treble after being picked for the 2006 World Cup - despite the fact he had not played a single Premier League game.

"I was very young then, 17, I was a kid," said Walcott.

"I had some good people around me though, which helped, and being with them for a period of time, Sol (Campbell) and Ash (Ashley Cole) for instance, they were the two who looked after me the whole trip, the whole World Cup.

"They made me part of everything and really helped me during that time.

"It was surreal, I'm with all these players I've looked up to and I've not even played a minute in the Premier League. Why am I here? I don't deserve to be here at all.

"But they made me part of it and I can't thank them enough. It shows how good they are as players and also people that they cared.

"Every player in that squad knew that I shouldn't have been there, of course they did. But they didn't treat me like that and I wouldn't change it, I honestly wouldn't.

"In terms of the World Cup, what happened to me might not happen again - a player that young and that inexperienced being put in the spotlight like that, so soon.

"It meant I was always in the spotlight and my wife Mel, and it meant I always would be, but I'm mentally very strong; stronger than a lot of people think. I've come back from a lot of ups and downs."

Walcott has had to be strong. His World Cup selection means that critics have judged his career against the likes of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, while there have been big injuries to get over.

But he left Arsenal with 108 goals and three FA Cup winners' medals, scoring in the 2015 final against Aston Villa at Wembley, and has 47 England caps to his name.

"It can't be too bad, being one of the top goal-scorers at Arsenal in the Premier League, mainly as a winger as well, and three FA Cups," said Walcott.

"Some really bad injuries and coming back from them, too.

"I feel a lot stronger than I ever have done since I've had kids because you have to be, you don't want them to see any weakness.

"Football is about opinions but love me or hate me, I don't really care. I genuinely wouldn't change anything. I don't have any regrets."

Walcott believes he is working harder than ever to keep improving and he is equally as ambitious for Everton.

"I was chatting to Seamus Coleman and he was talking about the FA Cup and saying how much he wanted to win it," said Walcott. "He's a top player and he really wants to win an FA Cup."

"You want to be remembered and be part of the history of a club and winning a trophy with Everton would make sure of that. The fans deserve it because they are amazing."

The supporters in the blue corner of the Emirates will certainly remember it if Walcott can score on his return and fulfil his promise to celebrate with them. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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