‘I don’t think he’s got a football brain’ was the assessment made by Chris Waddle regarding Arsenal’s Theo Walcott earlier this year. But will he, and should he, take up a much sought after seat on the plane to South Africa?
In specific respect to England’s largely laboured victory against Mexico last night, Walcott gave a typically exasperating performance. He caused problems at times, as his quick burst of pace often can, and he did threaten to unlock the defence.
Indeed, he looked a little more rounded than usual and gave an adequate performance, but still, as is also often the case, his distribution was mediocre and opportunities were not exploited.
On a more general level, Walcott cuts a frustrating figure.
His biggest asset is undoubtedly his pace, he is a great athlete. This could be a real outlet for England if utilised effectively (unfortunately, it’s invariably not) and is the reason why Walcott finds himself very much part of the international scene. But is this enough?
Though Walcott is not a bad player, Waddle’s past comments seem, on the whole, well founded. Walcott does not use his pace efficiently. Firstly, his positioning needs improving, and his decision making suggests a lack of understanding; Waddle highlighting basic situations such as where to be running, and when to run inside a full back. Against experienced international defenders, this lack of position awareness will render Walcott either unable to receive the ball enough or see him often caught offside. Given Waddles impressive pedigree – a player with both talent and an astute football brain – he is in an appropriate position to make these annotations.
You would think Theo would be meticulously studying the game to counter this – and he my well have – but he does not seem to have developed extensively in the last few years. Moreover, when he does get into dangerous positions he frequently chooses the wrong option or simply fails when attempting to deliver the right one. Reasons for this are curious, it could simply be he does not posses the required nuanced understanding of the game – playing largely off the cuff – but he also seems to, well, ‘brick it’ a little when approaching the areas of most significance. So composure is anther issue.
Added to this, his form this year has been ordinary at best. This was, of course, not helped by consistent injury niggles. However, again, this lack of form coupled with lack of regular football suggests he is perhaps not equipped for the World Cup this year, and probably hasn’t merited a place.
Indeed, in addition to his raw pace, his England place is largely thanks to that unforgettable hat-trick against Croatia in September 2008. This was certainly an impressive display, and should not be undervalued, however it does seem to be an exception to the rule, a one-off, and masks other frailties. Having done very little since, Walcott is still dining out on this succulent dinner in order to remain at the international dinner table. Nevertheless, it does show what he can do – why he is a useful tool – and what he should be doing more often; he still needs to develop into a more consistent and rounded player.
So, if not Walcott, who should be looking to on the right-wing? Shaun Wright-Philips has been on the cusp for a number of years. Somehow I seem to have more faith in him when going forward; he seems more in control, more accomplished and far more rounded. However, he has also not played enough this season and can be equally frivolous on the ball when wearing an England shirt.
Aaron Lennon is the obvious choice. Having previously been guilty of some of the criticisms appropriate to Walcott, Lennon has successfully developed into a player who mixes pace with an increasingly consistent end-product. Though by no means the finished article, Lennon’s performances for Tottenham this year mean he must surely be the favoured of the ‘speedy little nippers’ trio occupying the right-flank. He looks dangerous when going forward and has clearly worked on his crossing; picking out a target, or purposefully delivering into dangerous zones for forwards to attack, on a more frequent basis. Unfortunately suffering an injury set-back towards the end of the season, if he gets back to match fitness Lennon looks the best and most dangerous option.
It seems likely Walcott will at least make the final squad to go to South Africa, and part of me thinks he should; again for the pace, the unexpected, and Walcott the ‘athlete’. However, his shortcomings are problematic and largely outweigh this. Do you think he deserves his place and, if not, who does?
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