Theo Walcott scored his first goal on his return to Southampton after a 15-year absence as the English forward looks to end his rollercoaster, injury-hit career on a high. Sam Broad analyses Walcott’s career to determine whether we can deem it a success.
What stage of his career is Theo Walcott in?
Theo Walcott broke the deadlock against Wolves, with an instinctive finish from a Che Adams cross to mark his first goal for Southampton since his return to his boyhood club.
Later in the game, it looked as though the same pair would link up to secure the result for Southampton. Adams played a perfectly weighted ball over the top, only for Walcott to bring the ball down and place it wide of the target. Wolves dominated the last 20 minutes of the match, with Pedro Neto scoring the equaliser, losing Southampton the chance to go third in the Premier League table.
Walcott’s season-long loan move from Everton to Southampton makes for a romantic return to the club where he played most of his youth football. Everton manager Carlo Ancelotti decided Walcott was surplus to requirements.
With a long-term project at Everton, it seems Ancelotti favours the energetic flair of young attacking players. This comes as no surprise, as at 31 Walcott’s market price is dwindling. Whereas Everton’s Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Richarlison are proven talents at a young age, with the potential of increasing their financial value further.
Throughout his Arsenal career, Walcott transitioned between the position of a winger and a striker. The uncertainty of his best position has summarised the desperation to salvage a fraction of the potential Walcott held early in his career. Southampton manager, Ralph Hasenhüttl utilised Walcott as a central striker against Wolves. He linked up well with Adams, who is quickly becoming one of the more formidable strikers in the Premier League.
However, Walcott misplaced the crucial chance to win Southampton the game against Wolves. The missed opportunity looks worse when noting that injured Southampton striker, Danny Ings more than likely would have scored the same chance.
The match against Wolves is a symbolic summary of the former Arsenal player’s career. Walcott delivered a special moment to the Southampton fans by scoring a goal, only to fail to capitalise on the next goal-scoring opportunity that would have truly marked his authority on the game.
Now in his thirties, it is hard to see Walcott playing effectively as a Premier League winger. Walcott lacked the consistency to create chances regularly and struggled to develop his decision-making abilities in the final third.
It is hard to believe Theo Walcott is approaching the age where most wind down their careers, his long-term failure to improve his overall ability will mean he will eventually exit the Premier League without leaving a lasting impact.
Theo Walcott as a young player
In January 2006, Theo Walcott signed for Arsenal as a 16-year-old. Scouted by Arsène Wenger, heralded in the media to be the next iconic player for club and country. Yet another teenage prodigy, the pressure was piled on far before his adult years.
Sven-Goran Eriksson surprisingly selected the teenager for the England squad, at the expense of more experienced forward players. Walcott was on the plane to the 2006 World Cup without a first-team Premier League appearance for Arsenal.
Theo Walcott displayed glimmers of talent, with a hat-trick for England against Croatia in 2008 put him alongside an elite group of players to fulfill the same achievement.
Arsenal’s 5-3 win against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge went down in the history books as a Premier League classic. The game was an end-to-end spectacle, with the momentum constantly shifting between the two clubs until Arsenal seized the match late on. Robin van Persie scored a hat-trick, while Walcott went on a winding run before lacing the ball past Petr Cech.
Theo Walcott’s most memorable performance came in a 7-5 win against Reading in the League Cup. The erratic nature of the cup tie enabled Walcott to score a hat-trick, helping to overturn a 4-0 deficit that Reading had inflicted early in the match.
It is no surprise that the consensus of Walcott’s career is layered with a disappointing undertone. His most memorable performance came against Reading, a team who were only in the Premier League briefly throughout the forward’s career.
Notably, Walcott’s best performances have occurred in high-scoring games. This might seem unsurprising because as an attacking player there are simply more goals to be scored. However, these games usually follow a counter-attacking format, with less attention given to defensive structure. This benefits Walcott, who relies on his pace to get through the opposition lines.
The heavyweight of anticipation has plagued Theo Walcott’s career since his teenage years. When a consistent flow of goals is being scored, the pressure is relieved as the fans are simply ready to acknowledge the next goal, meaning that Walcott can play free from the burden of unrelenting expectation.
Has Theo Walcott’s career been a success?
With Theo Walcott’s lackluster Everton spell resulting in a season-long return to Southampton, his career has come full circle.
The Southampton played has featured for more than a decade in the Premier League, with over 100 goals for Arsenal across various domestic and European competitions. For any academy prospects rising through the ranks, on paper Walcott’s career would be considered an achievement, nothing to be ashamed of. The likelihood of sustaining a long-term career in the Premier League is highly unlikely for most youth players.
However, context is everything, especially for Theo Walcott’s career. As a teenager, it seemed Walcott was destined for footballing greatness. Unfortunately, the former Everton player could never reach those esteemed standards.
There’s the suggestion that Walcott wasn’t even that good to begin with. A catalogue of players is put forward prematurely with England’s thirst for International glory. At Southampton Walcott had only scored four goals in 21 appearances before joining Arsenal. An impressive return for a 16-year-old in the Championship but doesn’t justify a ticket to the 2006 World Cup.
The international successes of Michael Owen and Wayne Rooney at a young age, no doubt influenced Eriksson to select Walcott as his wildcard to shock the football globe. This was always unlikely to be a successful selection, as Walcott was an unproven talent, whereas Owen and Rooney had already displayed their brilliance in the Premier League.
The media’s obsession to find David Beckham’s England replacement resulted in several quick wingers being chosen for England. Shaun Wright Phillips and Aaron Lennon failed to make an extended impact on the international stage. With Walcott fitting the same mould, his turn was next.
It comes as no surprise Walcott struggled to display his talent for England when he hadn’t even implemented himself in the Arsenal team. Throughout his career, Walcott showed his talent. Although the inconsistency of his favoured position and the plague of injuries meant he would never reach the dizzy heights expected of him as a teenager.
Theo Walcott’s return to Southampton is a long-awaited reunion. The forward can subtly contribute to the growing success of his boyhood club, without the high expectations he failed to adhere to for much of his Arsenal and Everton career.
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