Chelsea and Liverpool each wished to signal Theo Walcott again when he was England’s hottest prospect, however as an alternative the rising star joined Arsenal from Southampton in 2006.
Why? Primarily as a result of Thierry Henry was there. And even for a 17-year-old child who had simply been to a World Cup, Walcott remembers the goosebumps.
Sitting down with talkSPORT for this Sunday’s episode of Up Entrance With, the 31-year-old, now again at Southampton, displays on his Arsenal profession with unbelievable fondness.
Of these early days, he stated: “Chelsea got here in, so did Liverpool and Arsenal. It was one factor that my idol was there – Thierry Henry. Plus Arsene Wenger gave so many alternatives to younger gamers.
“I simply thought I couldn’t say no to them and I wouldn’t change it for the world. It was the most effective selections I ever made.
“As quickly as I walked in, the primary individual I noticed was Henry. I assumed, ‘Bloody hell!’ I regarded so starstruck. Then Robert Pires is available in, then Freddie Ljungberg, Sol Campbell, Ashley Cole. I used to be like a child together with his autograph e book.
“I’ve by no means modified from that little child to date.”
Even nonetheless, Walcott had no thought what it meant to take over the quantity 14 shirt – arguably probably the most well-known in Arsenal historical past – when his hero left in 2008.
“I initially wished quantity eight however it was the season they signed Samir Nasri, in order that they instructed me I couldn’t have it,” Walcott stated.
“So I simply stated I’ll take quantity 14. I’m not superstitious and I didn’t actually consider the relevance. Then out of the blue I assumed, ‘S***, I’ve taken Thierry’s quantity’.
“I obtained a shirt signed from Henry and it stated, ‘Do quantity 14, from quantity 14’.
“He signed it off, and if it was ok for him, it was ok for me.”
However funnily sufficient, when requested to call his biggest ever teammate at Arsenal, Walcott surprises you.
He stated: “One of the best crew I’ve performed in was when Cesc Fabregas and Robin van Persie had been on track with one another and me in there as properly.
“I bear in mind one season I arrange round 14 of Van Persie’s 30-odd targets. For me, them two in a crew, with me as properly, was the most effective. That’s together with England.
“My biggest teammate must be Van Persie. For me, he was the very best finisher I’ve ever seen, he was higher than Thierry Henry, he made it look really easy.
“When you gave it to him, he would rating for you. He was a dream to play with, I don’t suppose there will likely be a participant like him ever once more.”
It might be truthful to say that in his 12 years at Arsenal, Walcott did Henry proud – and continues to do himself proud by reinventing himself at Southampton this season.
Whereas he might not have the identical quantity of silverware to point out for it, Walcott scored greater than 100 targets for the Gunners, most of them from out extensive.
“I placed on an outdated Tottenham sport the opposite day, once I was about 19,” he added.
“And I used to be watching it pondering, ‘Bloody hell – I used to be actually good!’”
In reality, he was so good that Lionel Messi requested for his shirt after a game-changing cameo off the bench throughout Arsenal’s well-known 2-1 victory over the LaLiga giants in a 2010 Champions League quarter-final.
“When he had the ball and he wished to face up with me, he would flip and go the opposite method,” Walcott stated. “I assumed, ‘OK, Messi doesn’t wish to try to run previous me, that’s a very good signal’.
“We performed Barcelona rather a lot and Messi requested for my shirt. I assumed, ‘Wow, the best participant on the earth in asking for my shirt!’ I’ve obtained no phrases for that.”
Amongst these 108 targets Walcott scored for Arsenal, his first got here towards Chelsea within the 2007 Carling Cup last and his favorite helped the Gunners win the 2015 FA Cup last.
To not point out, it is a man who bagged a hat-trick for England towards Croatia earlier than he turned 20.
But, whereas Walcott has already loved a profession only a few would dream of, there may be an unavoidable feeling that it might’ve been even higher.
His subsequent England purpose after the third towards Croatia got here 4 years later, and the 2006 World Cup proved to be his first and final.
At Arsenal, regardless of enjoying alongside mercurial aforementioned abilities like Henry, Fabregas and Van Persie – Walcott doesn’t have a Premier League winner’s medal.
“We had been too good. Then we received a couple of FA Cups and obtained within the Champions League loads,” Walcott added.
“At occasions, that felt prefer it was ok for Arsenal. It felt like a little bit of a medal. As gamers we wished to win issues, however the membership had been glad to complete fourth.
“When Leicester received the league and we had been the one crew to beat them twice, that was the 12 months we should always’ve finished one thing. That was the 12 months Arsenal ought to’ve received it.”
There have been additionally components outdoors of Walcott’s management, just like the shoulder damage which crippled him for many of 2008.
“That was so horrible,” he added. “I needed to play a complete season with my left shoulder popping out and in. Just a little bit like Deadly Weapon with Mel Gibson.
“Each sport I’d go hiding for a bit and no one knew about it, it actually hindered me.
“I handled it, performed via ache, however I wouldn’t have modified something.”
Walcott is among the most constructive folks you’ll ever meet: he goes to extraordinary lengths to show every little thing into one thing value smiling about.
The identical applies to the darkest days of his soccer profession, like when he was carried off on a stretcher with a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament whereas Tottenham followers lobbed cash at him in 2014.
Walcott missed 11 months of motion, together with the 2014 FA Cup last and World Cup, however he appears again on it with a smile, as a result of his life modified for the higher.
He continued: “The knee damage was the worst as a result of I didn’t know I did it on the time, that’s why I did the 2-Zero signal to the Tottenham followers.
“I obtained about £16.32 on my stretcher from all of the cash they lobbed at me. That’s why I did it. I might’ve gone and acquired some sweets, it was that a lot.
“All of the assessments had been fantastic, I had a pointy ache for 20 seconds after which it was fantastic. I’ll always remember the telephone name from the physician. He requested me if I used to be sitting down. I went so white and burst into tears.
“I regarded again at that and thought it was a blessing, as a result of my son was born and I by no means missed it. Issues occur for a motive – and that was my motive. I wouldn’t change it.
“Now that I’ve obtained youngsters, I take a look at soccer in a different way. They’re on my boots and I’m enjoying for them.
“Now they’re watching me, it’s like a movie which has come full circle. I received’t drive it on them, however I do follow with them loads, particularly with Finley. He’s obtained a very good kick.”
All the things has modified for Walcott, however after recapturing his finest type on the place the place it began with the identical child-like enthusiasm and love for soccer, he exhibits that some issues can at all times be identical, irrespective of how turbulent life will get.
Take heed to the complete hour-long interview with Theo Walcott on the newest episode of Up Entrance With this Sunday at 9.30pm on talkSPORT!