Theo Walcott: Undermined By Our Barcelona Template
Theo Walcott comes from a good family that have provided him with the support network that all excellent young sporting prodigies have required in their development.
Tiger Woods, Andy Murray and Lewis Hamilton are supportive parents who have stood shoulder to shoulder with their children, be it on a pitch, court or a green to develop their ability. His father Donald is ex-Royal Air Forces and is currently working as Theo’s personal manager. He has driven hundreds of miles to help his son reach the top, much like Tom Daley’s late father. His mother, Lynn, is a midwife; his Grand-Father on his father’s side is also ex-RAF and was one of the first black Conservative councillors; and his sister, Hollie, is a bodybuilder – which requires continuous focus on training and nutrition. His background around him is of honest and hard working people. He met his stunning girlfriend, Melanie Slade, in Southampton’s West Quay shopping centre when she worked in Claire’s Accessories. She is a physiotherapy student at St George’s Hospital University in London, and was humble enough to turn down a £140,000 personalised Ferrari he had bought for her 21st birthday. The point I am trying to make is that the people in the background of Theo’s career are part of the reason he will continue to improve. They have normal interests and personalities, and will remind him he is lucky to be where is – just like when you play online bingo for money. Having been the victim of a high value Burglary will also have pricked his ego to remind him he is not untouchable (two men were sentenced to 3 years and 9 months, having stolen £40,000 worth of property). Another reminder that he is just a human being will be the numerous injuries he has suffered. Circumstances like an anti-climatic involvement in a World Cup; being the victim of frustrating injuries, bouts of poor form and a strong family have made him a hungry and determined man to succeed.
His genetic god-given asset of sheer pace will mean Walcott can never be completely be ignored on the football pitch. Defenders must prepare for him and limit his space quickly when he receives the ball. His involvement forces tactical adjustments on the line played by the defence, and may alter the ambitions of an attacking fullback so they do not leave space. His fastest time over 100metres is believed to be 10.30 seconds. The second fastest player over that distance at Arsenal is supposedly Ryo Miyaichi, who does it in 10.84 seconds – a huge margin over 100 metres. As Pep Guardiola said, ‘You would need a pistol to stop him.’ Indeed, Walcott’s fastest 40 metre time is 4.72 seconds – 0.10 faster than Henry’s best. José Enrique gave a master class in how to manage him in the game against Liverpool. Enrique challenged him early before he could turn, competed for pace by offering channels for Walcott to run but ensuring he had a few metres advantage, and competed physically. We know Walcott wants the central role that Robin plays, but I am not sure that he has the instinctive technical skill or rugged power to retain possession with his back to goal. He is bigger than he was in previous years, having forced his slender upper body to catch up with his naturally stocky quadriceps through set after set of bodyweight dips, chins and push-ups. However, he is limited by his stature in a way because of the fact he is just not mean enough. Hernandez is the player Walcott needs to try to eliminate the doubts people have on his readiness to lead the line – rougher, more instinctive and more competitive.
In my view, Arsenal often fail to get the most from Walcott at the moment due to tactical reasons. Over elaborate, and time consuming triangles among the central trident of Song-Ramsey-Arteta allow opposition players to comfortably get players behind the ball and fill defensive spaces. At worst, some could say Arsenal use a style that does not suit him. Arsenal follow a ‘Barcelona’ template, based on possession, patience and small attacking midfield playmakers. Manchester United’s game is an altogether different model, directed at stretching opposition midfielders with diagonal passes, exciting wingers and lightening counter attacks. I am a firm believer that Walcott would have greater success in the latter style. He needs to be in a team that allow him to attack at space 12 times a game, not 4 or 5.
Can we get more out of Walcott essentially? Certainly. Away from home, Arsenal have been asking quite a lot from Walcott and putting a great strain on his pace. With the team slipping into a 4-5-1 far more when they are without the ball, it is his role to become the back post striker when the team attack from the left wing. Covering in front of a young Carl Jenkinson, Walcott may have to cover 70 yards in the time Van Persie may only have to cover 30.
I felt sorry for him when I watched Arsenal playing against West Bromwich Albion. I had a clear view from the Upper East Stand and could see that often Walcott was available for an early pass, but would be forced to wait a crucial 8-9 seconds longer than necessary. At United he would have been fired the pass far quicker, rather than have had to wait that time. Why is he not getting the earlier passes that he should be? Possibly Wenger has lost sight of how dangerous he is. A few years ago Arsenal were 2-1 down to Liverpool in a Champions League we would ultimately lose 4-2. In that game Walcott made a scorching drive at their defence to create a goal for Emmanuel Adebayor. I had never seen an assist like that before on such a grand stage by someone so young. It was powerful and fearless. At that point Andy Townsend said ‘Get the ball to Theo Walcott, he can win this.’ Indeed, I felt that even among the talents of Fábregas et al, Walcott was the one player that could win that game – and could win any game that night. If only Arsenal could be less Barcelona and more ‘Real Madrid’, Walcott could produce his best form. Real can do the careful triangles with Ozil, Alonso and Kaka but also fire early balls to Di Maria and Ronaldo to allow them maximum space to hurt fullbacks.
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