Theo Walcott had a successful career despite an impossible standard | Theo Walcott

PThis may be Theo Walcott’s breakthrough year. So went the cheap hit, heard in his thirties, which toyed with the idea of ​​an explosive talent never quite achieved. Jam was always promised for tomorrow; the 17-year-old brought to Germany in 2006 for the journey never really matured into the body of an adult footballer.

Now he has announced his retirement at 34 and, taking his career in circles, an alternative reading holds much more water. Walcott has perhaps become a footnote since leaving Arsenal five years ago, only evoking glimpses at Everton and during a Southampton farewell tourbut one gets the sense that much of the previous decade was spent struggling to achieve a nearly impossible standard.

What should Walcott have been? Maybe it’s smarter to look at what he really was. Few strikers with 47 England caps are retrospectively marked as failures, even though these appearances came during a largely barren period for the national team. Arsene Wenger may have flirted with a few duds in his final years at Arsenal, but it says a lot that he persevered with Walcott, selecting him 397 times and starting him on 252 of them.

He scored 108 goals for Wenger, including one in a winning FA Cup final. These are hardly the numbers of an unsuccessful player. They talk about someone who has made a success of himself.

‘It’s very scary’: Theo Walcott announces his retirement from football – video

They also recall that Walcott is only joined by James Milner to play Premier League football every season between 2006-07 and 2022-23. In those early years, the top flight had rarely seen speed like his: pace was an attribute he had never really lost and he supported the ascent that, shortly before the call for the Cup Sven-Göran Eriksson’s world that has skyrocketed expectations, led to him becoming England’s youngest senior male player.

With exhilarating racing capability comes an added layer of control. Could Walcott’s body and brain follow such a remarkable gift that often leaves its owner exposed? There were rough edges in his game that never quite ironed out; the microscope zoomed in further when, in 2008, he took the No.14 shirt which Thierry Henry had vacated when he left Arsenal a year ago. Walcott had groomed the superstar for him in advance and that meant any other outcome would, to some eyes, amount to failure.

Still, there were plenty of moments that showed why Wenger snatched him away from Southampton for £9million and why, almost a dozen years later, the couple’s trust in each other has never really wavered. When Walcott ripped through the Liverpool defense in a Champions League quarter-final at Anfield in 2008, setting up Emmanuel Adebayor for a tap-in that should have been the winner, it looked like a dizzying display of skill and a coronation night.

Theo Walcott scored his England hat-trick against Croatia in September 2008
Theo Walcott scores his third goal for England against Croatia in their 4-1 win in September 2008. Photograph: Owen Humphreys/PA

A year later he scored on the same stage against Villarreal, helping Arsenal to the last four; in 2010, it was his goal that turned an apparent jaunt for Barcelona to the Emirates into one of the most exciting European ties of this decade. The following season, a solo effort at Shakhtar Donetsk may have been the crystallization of Walcott’s peak: a jaw-dropping pursuit down the left flank before opening up his body for the kind of early, curled finish he had seen Henry produce time and time again.

In the midst of all that has come the hat-trick in Zagreb, the first competitive hat-trick achieved by an English player in seven years, which confirmed the best result of Fabio Capello’s term. It was September 2008 and if anyone had suggested that Walcott would only score five more international goals in that time, including three against Estonia and San Marino, he would have been considered a pessimist. It remains one of the best performances by an England striker in memory, which should perhaps temper criticism that there weren’t many others.

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An unfortunate injury record has been one of Walcott’s hurdles: an assortment of issues, starting with a shoulder problem and going through a ruptured cruciate ligament in 2014, have eaten away at around two years of his Arsenal career. Another was the guesswork of where he should play. Walcott was an instinctive finisher and, in conversation, it rarely took him long to mention that he had charted a future at centre-forward. He had the misfortune to show up at a time when the position was changing, requiring a full suite of abilities that never quite suited a player whose instinct was always to dash forward and look for space.

A thrilling display against Newcastle in December 2012, which earned him a hat-trick and two assists, was his best ever offering as a striker; Wenger, perhaps quixotic at a fault regarding Walcott’s potential, was never quite willing to kill his dream. In 2016, the player had accepted that the wing, where the spaces in front yawned more invitingly than anywhere else, was his natural home after all.

Around the same time, Wenger offered perspective on Walcott’s adventures. “Theo’s career is full of ups and downs,” he said. In that sense, it reflected an era of Arsenal that was characterized by false dawns and overly optimistic promises of imminent dominance but, regardless, still delivered annual Champions League football and more than one title. . He could be ridiculed and praised in the stands in the same minute, but was admired enough that “Sign da ting” became a famous musical meme when a contractual stalemate threatened a departure in 2012.

Perhaps these oscillations themselves are evidence of its success: given that the acceleration of young talent had not yet approached modern levels of mass production, it can be argued that Walcott’s production has considerably defied the odds. He didn’t need to become Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo or even Henry. A small percentage of today’s dear youngsters are likely to match his numbers. The journey, rather than any expected time of arrival, was his mark of excellence.

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