Theo Walcott was a child prodigy. He landed a sponsorship deal with Nike at age 14. He was the youngest person to play for the Southampton reserves at 15. At age 16, he became the youngest to play, and to score, for Soton’s first team. At 17 he became the youngest Arsenal player to feature in a European competition. That year he also became the youngest player to score for England’s Under-21s, and the youngest to play in England’s senior side. And by age 20 he was beginning to establish himself as a regular starter for one of the top clubs in world football.
But midway through that season (2008-2009) he dislocated his shoulder, an injury that required surgery and saw him miss most of the rest of the season. Sadly, the precocious footballer who seemed destined for world-class stardom was never again able to establish a stable foothold on his game. Over the years there have been flashes of brilliance, hints at his potential, glimpses of how far he could take his play. But those sparks were doused by periods of mediocrity, inconsistency, and injury.
The child prodigy is now nearly 29 years old, and it seems that Theo has realized that time is running out on his unfulfilled career. Perhaps it was the sobering fact that, although Arsenal have struggled this season, Walcott’s manager trusted him with just 63 minutes of EPL action and not a single league start. Or maybe the wake-up call finally came last week against Bournemouth: With Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Ozil, and Olivier Giroud all unavailable, the manager spurned Walcott in favor of Danny Welbeck and Alex Iwobi to support Alexandre Lacazette, who himself had not scored in 8 straight games. (Admittedly, Arsene Wenger may have been protecting Theo ahead of his impending transfer).
Having recognized that his future at Arsenal had become a dead end, last week Walcott agreed to a £20M transfer to Everton. “It felt like it was time for me to move on,” he said. “It was sad but it’s exciting at the same time, and I want to reignite my career and push Everton to win things as they have done before.”
The looming World Cup was surely in his thinking as well — any English forward who is scoring goals in the months leading up to the Cup will surely register on Gareth Southgate’s radar, no matter what that player had been doing (or not doing) in the prior 12 years.
We know what Theo has done at Arsenal. But what should we expect from him at Everton? First of all, I think Sam Allardyce will give Walcott the starts that eluded him at the Emirates. Big Sam himself brought in Walcott; Allardyce didn’t inherit the player from some former Toffee gaffer. So obviously Walcott is someone whom Allardyce wants and believes in. And despite Walcott’s stunted legacy at Arsenal, he still has more class and experience than any of his direct Goodison Park competitors for pitch time. Although he failed to grow into our inflated expectations as a Gunner, we must remember that he still scored more than 100 goals for one of the EPL’s most storied clubs, he has a decade of Champions League experience, and he has been capped for England almost 50 times.
Over the weekend, he slotted straight into Everton’s S11 and played the full 90 in the 1-1 draw with West Brom. He made threatening runs at the Baggies’ defense, delivered a nice cross into the box, headed down for Oumar Niasse to stroke home, and forced a smart save from Ben Foster with a crisp volley. Here’s the assist:
Afterwards, Allardyce seemed pleased with Theo and hinted that the player will be foundational to the Toffee’s lineup going forward:
“There was a brilliant volley which he might have scored from and the head-back for Niasse. But as I said before, our players have to have an understanding of where Theo wants the ball, and they didn’t today... Theo Walcott is a very quick player with a lot of talent, but we must play to his strengths, and we will try to improve on that.”
If not for a yellow card for a cynical foul on Grzegorz Krychowiak, Walcott would have finished on 12 points in Fantrax. As it stood he registered 9 — not bad at all for a mere $1 investment. At that price, he should be value for money week in and week out. And although he is most naturally suited to a position on the right wing, Walcott can (and loves to) play as a striker. That versatility improves his fantasy appeal, since he could deputize centrally if the usual Toffees there get injured or lose form.
Yet by using enablers elsewhere, I’m generally able to fill my precious Fantrax forward slots with proven heavy-hitters like Mo Salah, Harry Kane, Sergio Aguero, and Alexis Sanchez. Allardyce will have to show that he can get a lot more out of Theo than Wenger did before I’m willing to unseat one of those blue-chips to make room for Walcott. That said, I did transfer him into my NMA + Bench team ahead of the West Brom game, since there are surplus forward slots in that platform, and I had some pocket change available. He’ll provide a cheap insurance policy against the occasional stinker from one of my marquee names.
He’s not a strong play in Togga Perfect 11 for the same reason I don’t like him in the regular Fantrax format — forward slots are too limited to justify spending one on Theo, especially when budget is not a constraint. But in the Official game, Theo is classed as a midfielder priced at £7.1. Given his apparent security of starts, his classification as a middie, his mid-range price tag, and his potential to produce returns on par with his midfield peers, he represents a better fantasy play in FPL than he does in Fantrax. (My thanks to trini_omar and Chris_Manfredi for their help with the FPL info/assessment.)
At age 28, Walcott is in the midst of his prime years as a footballer. He is playing under a manager who trusts and believes in him, and that confidence may finally elevate Theo’s play to the level it seemed destined to reach so many years ago: “The manager is very hungry, and it’s just what I need. I’ve had a couple of chats with him, and straightaway I felt that hunger and that desire that he wanted from me.” But unless Walcott finally shows that his play can consistently approach the heights that we expected from the teenage wonder-boy, I’ll mostly choose to enjoy his forays down the right flank at Goodison Park as a fan, rather than as a fantasy manager.
What do you make of Walcott’s transfer? Smart move for him? Smart move for Everton? Will Goodison Park provide the stage from which Theo can catch Gareth Southgate’s eye — or yours? Tell us what you think in the comments below.