Since the closure of the transfer window, it’s been all quiet on the Walcott front. Events in the final week of the window followed a confusing trajectory. At one point Walcott was issued an ultimatum – ‘Sign or be sold’ – only for Arsenal to relent and allow him to stay without reaching agreement on his contract.
As bizarre and unlikely as it seems, my understanding is that is played out pretty much like that. On the Monday, Dick Law made a series of phone calls to enquire about the availability of other wingers from the continent – presumably as potential Walcott replacements. Within 48 hours or so, Arsene Wenger was telling the assembled media that Walcott would stay. In in the interim, the club obviously decided that the upheaval caused by a third major departure was not worth it.
At the time, Arsene said he expected Walcott to sign a new deal. Of course he said that – anything else would be tantamount to admitting the player was on borrowed time. But now, a month on, an agreement seems no closer. Not only that, but Walcott has fallen out of the first-team and was met with a smattering of jeers on his last appearance at the Emirates.
Yesterday, he had his say. Speaking at the launch of the Football Association’s Just Play scheme, he said:
“I’ve been judged, with people saying it’s all about money. It’s never been that with me. Playing up front is important. It’s one of the main factors for me.”
It seems like a well-rehearsed line; he trotted it out to countless journalists yesterday, hence today’s headlines. I’ve met Walcott – he is one of the most media-savvy footballers I’ve come across. When you ask him a question, his eyes glaze over and he goes in to an automated, robotic response. I’m sure there’s a sparkling personality in there, but media training and inherent conservatism have clouded it in the banale rhetoric of football. For him to say something as arguably controversial as this, it had to be planned.
He went on:
“I signed as a striker. I’ve learnt my trade out on the wing. Hopefully, I’ll get to play up front in the next few games. It’s frustrating being on the bench, but it’s one of those things I have to deal with.”
You didn’t sign as a striker, Theo. You signed as a sixteen year old. At that age, William Gallas was a striker, and Kieran Gibbs a winger. A players development between 16 and 23, Walcott’s current age, cannot be pre-determined. It’s been seven years, and Walcott looks far more like a winger than a centre-forward now.
Theo’s supposed desire is also tactically naieve: Arsenal play 4-3-3. That means three forwards. He is a striker, just positioned in a wide area. If it’s good enough for Lukas Podolski, it ought to be more than good enough for him.
And if this is really how he feels, then there’s something very childish about his attitude. Theo hasn’t played upfront for almost a decade. He doesn’t even really know what that experience is like at the top level. But he knows what it represents. He knows what it stands for and he wants, “like Thierry Henry”, to be the main man.
Theo could learn a thing or two from Mikel Arteta. And by that, I don’t mean about styling his hair a glue-gun rather than a hairdryer. After Sunday’s game against Man City, the Spaniard was asked about his new role as a holding midfielder. He said:
“It is a big transition but it is more a mental thing. The boss is convinced that is the best thing for the team and I am too, so let’s do it.”
This is a player who is more than capable of playing an attacking role, and yet has sacrificed that for the team. And this is a guy who, unlike Walcott, does not have a long career stretching in front of him. He’s on borrowed time in football terms, and yet is prepared to put the team first.
When you add it all up, this “big factor” of wanting to play through the middle doesn’t really seem to make any sense, does it? And that’s when it becomes exposed for what it is: a cover story. Another PR spin from ‘camp Walcott’ so that when he refuses to sign a new deal they can protest that it wasn’t about the money. Perhaps I’m wrong and he will stay, but this looks to me a lot like he’s getting his excuses in early.
Don’t worry, Theo; you’re excused. I suspect we’ll cope just fine without you.