International Soccer
Walcott putting World Cup snub behind him

By Tim Keeble, Soccer Editor

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - The biggest decisions most 16-year-old boys have to make involve a choice of which car to buy, which girl to ask to the dance, or what their Facebook status will be.

But Theo Walcott was not your typical 16-year-old.

Instead of facing such life-altering decisions, Walcott's biggest concern involved which English soccer powerhouse he would allow to pay him millions of dollars.

He had teams like Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United among others clamoring for his services, and in the end he completed a move from Southampton to Arsenal to begin a a five-year period of great highs and equally significant lows.

At 17, Walcott got to experience the euphoria of being a shock inclusion in former England boss Sven-Goran Eriksson's 2006 World Cup squad, despite the fact that he had yet to start a Premiership match for the Gunners.

Although he failed to see any time in Germany at the World Cup, Walcott made his first big impression in a World Cup qualifying match for England at Croatia in September 2008, scoring a hat trick in England's 4-1 win.

But those three goals remain the only three that he has scored in international competition, and after suffering through an injury-plagued season for Arsenal that saw him limited to only 15 starts because of shoulder, back, knee and hamstring problems, Walcott was left off of Fabio Capello's 23- man World Cup squad this past summer, marking a low point in his career.

Theo Walcott has scored four goals in two starts so far this season for the Gunners.
Walcott admitted that the decision left him in tears, but once he got past the initial disappointment, it was time to look forward to this season.

"I had a good think about it, didn't blame anyone. I had a nice break and went away and relaxed," Walcott told Sky Sports. "I've had a great preseason, I wanted to get playing and show what I can do.

"I had a lot of injuries last season. This season is more to push on and get on the goal sheet a little more often."

And Walcott has done nothing to disappoint, scoring four goals in two starts so far this season, while also displaying an improved ability to finish.

Walcott has found a home on the right wing in a talented Arsenal attack, and Gunners manager Arsene Wenger believes that he used his World Cup snub as motivation heading into this season.

"He is a guy who keeps his feet on the ground," Wenger told the Telegraph. "He takes life in a positive way. The glass is half-full, not half-empty. So he took that as another challenge. That's what's amazing about Theo.

"He is 21, he is now at an age when players normally start. He is not at the peak of his game. He has to keep his attitude right. And he has to avoid injury."

That last part is one of the main things that has defined Walcott's young career so far, with injury problems limiting him to just 28 starts over the past two seasons for Arsenal.

When he signed with the Gunners as a precocious 16-year-old, the club certainly had to hope for more return on its investment over the first three years than the nine goals in 86 appearances that Walcott delivered.

But Wenger is right to remind everyone that Walcott is, after all, just 21, and that his best years are still to come.

It will be interesting to see if Walcott can maintain his high level of performance over the course of the season, since staying healthy and being consistent have been two things that have so far eluded him in his career.

Following a disastrous World Cup, England fans will no doubt be looking for any signs of progress as the team begins its Euro 2012 qualifying campaign on Friday with a match against Bulgaria.

Capello himself is in a similar position as Walcott, with both looking to prove themselves all over again and trying to turn the page from this past summer.

So it was no surprise that Walcott found himself included in Capello's team, with another chance to prove that he is anything but ordinary.

Comments? Criticism? Applause?
Contact Tim Keeble at tkeeble@sportsnetwork.com.

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