Don’t Blame Theo

“Two words will probably haunt Sven Goran Eriksson for the rest of his career: Theo Walcott. Eriksson may have thought that the Arsenal teenager was going to be his Michael Owen in Germany in 2006. But the erratic decision backfired and for most coaches, confirmed the value of experience over youth.” Gavin Hamilton of World Soccer

For one thing, it’s quite speculative if not simply inaccurate to say that Sven “thought that the Arsenal teenager was going to be his Michael Owen in Germany in 2006.” I don’t remember ever reading or hearing Sven state anything close to having such high expectations of our injured (again) winger/striker. Theo was given a place in the World Cup squad but so was Stewart Downing. The over-rated Stewart Downing!

Isn’t that the selection that backfired?

Sven was criticized then for picking Theo but what real harm was there in picking him? At worst, he was given a spot that could have gone to another (non-existent) player who might have been more experienced and better equipped to make a difference to England’s ultimate fate. At best, he provided opposition in training for the England Left Back and competition for other wingers/strikers in the squad.

Who else was available at the time?

Sven picked and played Stewart Downing. Stewart Downing!!! STEWART DOWNING can say that he has played in a FIFA World Cup Finals tournament. WTF?!?!?

The idea that Sven made a mistake picking Theo was overblown in 2006 and it is equally over the top today to suggest that an “erratic decision backfired.” How was it erratic? If just one place in a squad of 23 players makes as big a difference as Mr. Hamilton has suggested, then the player surely must be worthy of greater expectation than was Theo. If Theo had been picked instead of Rooney, Gerrard, Lampard, or even Aaron Lennon, I’d understand. He wasn’t. Those players were there. Theo was never expected to be the type of player who’d make that big a big difference.

Again, I ask which player was available who fits that profile?

That Theo was selected was more a reflection of the lack of choices for the England manager than a mistake. Some went as far as suggesting that it was Arsene Wenger who twisted Sven’s arm to pick Theo. Wenger, like any manager looking for an advantage that would benefit his player and club, promoted the idea but every other manager with a promising young player at his cllub was free to do the same.

The idea that it “backfired” leaves me scratching my head. Was Theo’s inclusion what kept England from reaching the final? I fully accept that experience is a must at any FIFA World Cup Final. The squad had experienced players in Beckham, Campbell, Neville, Ferdinand, Gerrard, Carragher, Terry, and Ashley Cole. Moreover, England’s best player (since Matt LeTissier and Paul Gascoigne) for the period before the emergence of Wayne Rooney, Paul Scholes, was not available for selection anyway.

Sven’s choice to bring Theo was not why England stumbled and were eventually knocked out. Look at the names listed below and among them you will see an aggregate of (non-)contributors more responsible for England’s demise than Theo.

The England 2006 World Cup squad:

1 GK ROBINSON Paul – (Tottenham Hotspur, ENG)
2 DF NEVILLE Gary – (Manchester Utd., ENG)
3 DF COLE Ashley – (Arsenal, ENG)
4 MF GERRARD Steven – (Liverpool, ENG)
5 DF FERDINAND Rio – (Manchester Utd., ENG)
6 DF TERRY John – (Chelsea, ENG)
7 MF BECKHAM David – (Real Madrid, ESP)
8 MF LAMPARD Frank – (Chelsea, ENG)
9 FW ROONEY Wayne – (Manchester Utd., ENG)
10 FW OWEN Michael – (Newcastle, ENG)
11 MF COLE Joe – (Chelsea, ENG)
12 DF CAMPBELL Sol – (Arsenal, ENG)
13 GK JAMES David – (Manchester City, ENG)
14 DF BRIDGE Wayne – (Chelsea, ENG)
15 DF CARRAGHER Jamie – (Liverpool, ENG)
16 MF HARGREAVES Owen – (Bayern Munich, GER)
17 MF JENAS Jermaine – (Tottenham Hotspur, ENG)
18 MF CARRICK Michael – (Tottenham Hotspur, ENG)
19 MF LENNON Aaron – (Tottenham Hotspur, ENG)
20 MF DOWNING Stewart – (Middlesbrough, ENG)
21 FW CROUCH Peter – (Liverpool, ENG)
22 GK GREEN Robert – (Norwich, ENG)
23 FW WALCOTT Theo – (Arsenal, ENG

The core of that last England team is still around and in their peak years. I would argue that this is England’s best chance to win a World Cup in a very long time. Potential though (as we Arsenal fans know) is a door that stays open for but so long.

If Theo is fit in time to make make a difference to Arsenal winning something this year, he might have another chance to be part of a group that fails and no doubt he’ll get to shoulder the blame. But who knows what they’ll do in South Africa! Remember, Capello is no mug.

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