Walcott opts to play for both national sides

Kieran Beckles
By Kieran Beckles

In the lead up to this summer’s Under-21 Championships in Sweden, the talk has not been about the performances of the squad in the pre-tournament friendlies.

Instead it has been Arsenal striker Theo Walcott who has hit the headlines without even kicking a ball for Stuart Pierce’s outfit.

With the young starlet participating in both of England’s qualifiers against Kazakhstan and Andorra, Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger was keen for his young prodigy to spend the rest of his summer break with his feet up on some exotic island. But this won’t be the case. Walcott will be playing for England’s Under-21’s as they look to build on the senior squad’s recent success.

After the disappointment of World Cup 2006, the 20-year-old has declared his wish to make his debut for England in his first competitive international tournament. And after his treatment by ex-England manager Sven Goran Eriksson, he can hardly be blamed for getting the proverbial monkey off his back.

It is easy to see where Wenger is coming from in expressing his concerns with regards to the over-exposure of his wonder kid. A serious shoulder injury in early November ruled Walcott out until March, missing the greater part of Arsenal’s season. Wenger just has his club’s and player’s best interests at heart.

The coming season is a vital one for Wenger as he looks to bring to an end a four-year trophy drought and start to reap the rewards of his tireless labour. Walcott will be key to his plans and with this in mind, Wenger has granted the youngster an extended rest from duties, with the 20-year-old not expected to report to pre-season training before mid July.

Current tournament holders, Holland will not be competing in Sweden, so the trophy will be inscribed with a new name. England benefit from a wealth of talent in their squad including James Milner, Gabriel Agbonlahor, Micah Richards and Mark Noble.

The addition of Walcott will have greatly pleased Pearce who maintains that the decision was down to the player and there was no extra pressure applied on his part:

“I spoke with Arsene after that and I just told him my plans for Theo. Credit to him, he didn’t agree. I did say to him that I’d spoken to Theo,” he said.

“I have got an utmost respect for Arsene and I understand his point of view but we beg to differ a little bit and the most important driver in the whole conversation was the fact that Theo wants to be part of both squads.”

England have been drawn in Group 2 alongside Finland, Germany and Spain. The words ‘Group of Death’ spring to mind. It will be a good chance for England head coach, Fabio Capello and Pearce to assess which members of the squad could merit a call up for World Cup 2010, should England qualify.

England will kick off against Finland on the 15th June.

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