Whilst Bugs and Daffy continue their eternal argument over whether it is Duck or Wabbit season, the media have decided that this week is open season on Theo Walcott. Well, it has been for quite a while with the abuse raining in on his head. As quickly as the media has built him up, they were waiting patiently to knock him down. That hat-trick in Zagreb must seem a lifetime ago.
That Capello did not include Walcott is not entirely surprising. Wright-Phillips and Lennon are more orthodox wingers; Walcott is a central striker in waiting, taking his footballing education on the right flank. They have better delivery from wide positions and this is apparently what Capello wants, not a player adept at passing through defences. He wants someone to hug the touchline; that is not Walcott’s game. If reports are to be believed, the recent friendlies saw Walcott play himself out of the squad.
Martin Keown was less dismissive in his criticism of Walcott than Chris Waddle – ‘no footballing brain‘ – or Paul Merson – ‘he has not improved one iota since joining Arsenal‘ – but biting nonetheless:
He runs at a frightening pace, he is rapid, but when he gets into those positions he is not able to think quickly enough, does he pull it back, does he shoot or does he go on his own? His decision making is the problem, he hasn’t been able to do that.
Under Capello it seemed as if he has been getting it right in the main, under Wenger, no, there has been a problem, whether or not that is the coaches’ fault, it has to be the players, he has just not played enough games.
It is hard to understand Keown’s logic. He is normally far better informed about players than the last sentence suggests. Quite simply, you cannot play if you are not fit. Walcott was screwed over by the selfish motives of Pearce and Capello last summer and is paying the price now.
The criticism of Wenger albeit tempered, fits with the media profile of the Arsenal coach. To blame him for injuries caused through overplaying is a bit rich, especially when he very vocally ciriticised the England set-up for the decision to call Walcott into the Under-21 and senior squad last summer. Those exertions limited the player to 15 starts (and 15 substitute appearances) in 2009/10; hardly proof of fitness.
That is not to say Keown is incorrect in his assessment of Walcott:
He has become a bit of a one-trick pony in terms of going for the line. People just double up on him. When he has got time and space then he finds it a problem and he has got to sort that out with his game.
Walcott’s judgement is at times suspect yet he is 21 years old and has made 75 starts (plus 61 substitute appearances). To expect that aspect of his game to be perfect is incredibly naive. Problematically, Walcott came with great expectations and the burden of a huge price tag.
Add into that mix the folly of inclusion in the 2006 squad and constant pronouncements by successive England managers that Theo is the most naturally gifted English player of his generation, the snowball effect had built. Underpar performances for the national team over the past two years in the eyes of the media have meant the slow burning fires of disenchantment were gradually heating. The flames roared into life in the past fortnight but opinion was divided.
He has to pick himself up for next season. From a selfish point of view, Arsene will not be disappointed, knowing that Walcott will be fit for a full pre-season, motivated by this disappointment to show the world how good he really is. If the latter is an issue, then there is a problem. Nothing so far suggests that will be the case.
Looking at the rest of the squad, some surprise that Ledley King was recalled noting his well-reported injury problems, the question must be if he can sustain his fitness but most of the defence is adaptable and can play elsewhere, Cole, Warnock and Johnson the exceptions.
In midfield and attack, few surprises. Carrick’s inclusion is as back up for Barry should his fitness fail whilst Joe Cole has apparently been a shining light since the training camp began in Austria. As ever, no solution has been found for Gerrard and Lampard other than playing the former out of position.
Four strikers, four you could have named six months ago. Darren Bent may have scored regularly for his club but the absence of any of the big four trying to sign him when he was available sums up his level; good but not international quality. Heskey does not score enough but is favoured as a partner by Rooney and every England forward before him.
England will hold no surprises this summer. For anyone. Which means a probably quarter final exit.
Elsewhere, apparently another bright young thing is being readied for a loan. Francis Coquellin will be part of a deal to bring Laurent Koscielny to The Emirates, the Arsenal youngster to be sent to France for one season as a replacement is sought for William Gallas whose contract has apparently run its course.
No doubt there will be criticism this morning that Aaron Ramsey has been offered a new contract with his injury still some way to go before recovery. Not too sure why that will be a problem but given he is seen as a long-term replacement for Cesc, and the rest of the squad had new contracts last summer, surely it is better to keep him into the pattern of reward?
They have not stopped and Cheerleader-in-Chief, Xavi, thinks that he is some sort of Seer, as if repeating what the media say gives him some divine insight although they now think it will be well beyond the World Cup before any deal is done although I do wish this one was written by R.Sole instead.