When they tuck themselves into bed next June, will England’s Euro 2016 opponents lose a fraction more sleep if they know Theo Walcott is about to be unleashed on them?
Based on his current form I’m beginning to think they might. That’s why I hope Roy Hodgson gives the 26-year-old a shot at playing centre forward for his country in this week’s final two qualifiers.
Competition within the England squad is actually stiffer than it’s been in years. Wayne Rooney, Daniel Sturridge and Harry Kane are all quality forwards that know where the back of the net is, and each has a legitimate claim to start up front next summer.
However, you don’t need a Pro Licence to know that speed of the Walcott variety is capable of destroying any opponent, on any football pitch – providing it’s used correctly.
During my career I played with plenty of speed merchants, but it would only ever be an asset if they had work rate, aggression and intelligence to accompany their pace. Ian Wright had them all, which is why he was so brilliant to play with, but when a quickie lacks those qualities they’ll struggle to make an impression at any level of the game.
Until recently Walcott just wasn’t utilising his Top Trump superpower well enough down the centre to be considered for a permanent role. His problem wasn’t down to effort or brainpower, more a lack of assertiveness.
Often timid, he’s been too content to sit on the periphery of matches, hoping for the right passes to be slotted through gaps, rather than imposing his strengths on those that mark him. He hasn’t taken matches by the scruff of the neck or pushed himself into the spotlight often enough.
I recognise the flaw; too laid back, I was guilty of it as a player myself.
Yet something inside the Gunners star has changed; and it’s making Arsene Wenger, Hodgson, and many of us revise our earlier opinions.
I know it’s only been over a handful of games, but everything Walcott is doing right now is filled with a new-found purpose and aggression. Playing with passion and a point to prove, he’s making things happen. The difference it’s made to Arsenal’s forward play has been incredible. Defenders are scared stiff of him, space is opening up for midfielders, and when he times his bursts in behind, nobody can get near him.
Honestly, when a rapido like Walcottmarries everything together, it’s a very powerful tool. It makes life so much easier for every other player on the team.
At Euro 2016, a major tournament where England will have to accept they’re not good enough to boss possession in every contest, they’ll need a decent counter attacking strategy up their sleeve. Using Walcott as the leader of their line instantly makes them a force to be reckoned with on turnovers and breakaways.
I know what you’re thinking. Does Hodgson have creators who are good enough to see the right passes early enough to put Walcott away? It’s a question that needs answering.
All I will say is that deploying Rooney or Kane in the ‘No.10’ role behind him is well worth experimenting with this week. They both have excellent football brains. At the tournament, Jack Wilshere and Raheem Sterling are two others who should be able to provide the right kind of service too.
I’m not saying Theo is the answer to England’s prayers, or that we should start planning a victory parade for mid-July just yet.
However, Theo Walcott is a unique weapon that’s capable of handing Hodgson’s men a fresh dimension that excites the nation and frightens opponents.
Whether it’s Plan A or B, Hodgson has to find a way to use him. All Walcott needs to do, is stay nasty. He’s a better player for it.