Theo Walcott has come a long way since his surprise inclusion in England’s 2006 World Cup squad. Then a pacy 17-year-old tearing down the wing, he is now a mature but threatening forward, and one of Arsenal’s and England’s biggest threats in attack.
Praise has come from the highest echelons of football – namely, Barcelona. “You’d need a pistol to stop him,” said Barça coach Josep Guardiola in 2010, with Lionel Messi nodding sagely in the background. “I can only speak from experience but he is one of the most dangerous players I have ever played against,” said the Argentine agreed by all to be the best on the planet right now.
So what next for Theo, still only 21? First up: success with England...
Do you think England are on the right track now, Theo, after last year’s disappointment in South Africa?
We’ve got the players to go far, and it’s great we’re getting the right balance now between experience and youth, and that young players are getting a chance. If you’re playing well it’s important that you get that chance.
You can only improve, and with players spending more time together, the team is only going to get better. I think the best thing is just to totally forget about last summer, to be honest. You’ve got to move on. Everyone knows it didn’t go our way, but that’s football for you.
Fabio Capello has taken on some criticism during his time in charge of England, but the team has recovered well during qualification for Euro 2012. Does his mental strength inspire the players?
That’s the good thing about the manager: he always takes the pressure and puts it on himself instead of reflecting it on the team. It’s the sign of a good manager. And we’re getting points now. It’s all about wins in order to qualify, and that’s what we’re doing.
Are the players happy with Capello as the manager?
Yes, you want to go out there and perform just for yourself as well. There’s a lot of competition at international level, a lot of players playing well, so you’ve always got to play well when you can and get in the face of the manager.
Is there ever a siege mentality in the squad when the team is being criticised?
When we’re in the England set-up, we focus on us – just us. There are always ups and downs, but we can’t take our eyes off the target. You have to forget about what people say, and just do it on the pitch. You don’t want to be talking to the cameras and saying this and that; you want to go out there and perform.
Besides, we’re not trying to lose games – we always try and win for the fans. They spend a lot of money on tickets and travelling the world, so we always want to make them proud. We’re always proud of wearing this top as well: wearing the England shirt is a dream come true for a lot of players, as it’s a lot of hard work from a young age. And when you do make your debut for the seniors it’s great but it doesn’t stop there – you want more and more.
England’s shift to 4-3-3 seems to have worked. You’ve often played in this formation with Arsenal...
It’s always nice going into the set-up knowing that the formation I play at Arsenal is exactly the same. There’s a lot of switching positions and interlinking between players, which causes havoc for defenders at times, because you have one player you’re getting used to marking and then you’ve got to try and get used to another one.
In the qualifiers, though, it’s all about the three points. It doesn’t matter in international football how you play, as long as you get the results. Sneaking a win is enough.
Interview: Ben Welch. Theo Walcott is wearing the new Umbro Englan�d Away anthem jacket which players will wear as they walk out on to the pitch. Tailored to compliment the kit, the Anthem jacket compliments Umbro’s smart approach to football tailoring. Visit umbro.com.