Flying winger Walcott finally ready to make an impact at major championships
21:30 GMT, 4 June 2012
Roy Hodgson's words were not particularly encouraging for Theo Walcott but, after swallowing disappointment in the past, the Arsenal winger is determined to contribute to England’s Euro 2012 campaign.
Walcott has yet to appear at a major finals, having travelled to the World Cup in Germany six years ago without playing a minute and then missing out at the final cut for the squad to South Africa.
In between, England failed to qualify for the Euros but on Wednesday he will board the plane for Poland on the back of his most productive season in the Barclays Premier League.
Stage is set: Theo Walcott (right) hopes to finally shine for England
He is sure to be one of England’s key attacking threats, even if Hodgson has not picked him from the start in either of the two warm-up friendlies and looks set to use him as an impact substitute.
‘Everyone’s role is up for grabs,’ insisted Walcott. ‘There’s always competition in any team. You have to train well and when you’re given an opportunity you have to take it.
‘If you come off the bench it’s what you do on the pitch that matters.
‘You want to try to do something and be a threat.
‘I think I showed a little bit of that at Wembley and, hopefully, I can show a bit more in a starting role next time.’
Walcott looked dangerous when he came on for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain during the second half of Saturday’s win against Belgium, but Hodgson likes the industry of James Milner, which makes his starting 11 more solid.
‘The thing about Theo is that he’s had quite a few chances in the team,’ said the England manager, but Walcott’s form is more potent now than ever before, and he started all of the Euro 2012 qualifiers when he was available.
Of all the wide players in the Premier League last season, only Gareth Bale scored more.
First choice: James Milner is set to be picked ahead of Walcott for England
Walcott scored eight (Bale nine),
which included vital goals in victories over Chelsea and Tottenham, and
had eight assists as Arsenal recovered from an awful start to finish
third. And the 23-year-old is feeling fresh, having missed three weeks
near the end of the season with a hamstring injury.
It is a contrast to two years ago, when he had spent the previous summer at the European Under 21 Championship, struggled with injuries and his form suffered as the World Cup loomed.
Even so, Fabio Capello, who once hailed him as England’s most important player, lived to regret not taking him to South Africa.
‘I’m training hard and I feel great,’ said Walcott, who won his 23rd cap against Belgium. ‘It’s always going to take time with a new manager, the way he wants the team to play, different players he’s used to playing with.
‘It will take time, but the most important thing is we go out there and perform well and work hard. Going to a tournament is not just about individual players, it’s about a team. With the team and the quality we have in that dressing room, we can go far if we all just trust each other.
‘Two clean sheets is the most important thing. As a team, structurally we are defending very well.
‘The goals will come. If you go the whole tournament winning 1-0, I’m sure nobody will complain about that.
Rising star: Walcott tipped Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (right) to be a success
‘It’s a positive going into the tournament. We’re a team playing without any fear, and when players come off the bench they want to grab that opportunity.’
Wayne Rooney’s absence from the opening group games against France and Sweden will continue to present opportunities for other attacking players to put pressure on Hodgson. ‘With the players we have in that dressing room, who all play in the best league in the world, it’s not a hard task for anyone to come into Wayne’s role,’ said Walcott.
‘You never know, we might keep Wayne out of the team if we do well in the first two games.’
One who has seized his chance is Oxlade-Chamberlain, having taken the same path as Walcott from Southampton to Arsenal and into the England squad.
‘Alex is a young man who likes to play with no fear and he’s very confident,’ said Walcott.
‘If there are people who haven’t heard about him before the tournament, they will hear about him afterwards. I’m sure about that.’