The sports pages of most newspapers (and websites, for that matter) have been doing their best to make a big deal of Theo Walcott’s omission from Fabio Capello’s World Cup squad. Really, it’s not that much of a story. Out-of-form player has injury-hit season, plays crap in two key friendlies, is left out: it’s not the biggest shock in the world, but you could be forgiven for thinking Capello had just kicked a puppy or something.
Of course, in a manner of speaking, he had. Theo’s the nice lad of English football, the antidote to your Ashley Coles and your John Terrys, a quiet boy who wouldn’t say boo to a goose. Being left off the plane wasn’t supposed to happen to such a lovely young whippersnapper all the pundits seemingly want their daughters to marry. We need someone likeable on the England team, after all.
A few of the same reporters seem slightly mystified that Shaun Wright-Phillips is essentially Walcott’s replacement, given that he’s basically the same as Theo only older – i.e. pacy winger, with little end product. Except Wright-Phillips has played very well in England’s last three games, and despite a frustrating season at City where he was mainly used as an impact sub, he’s certainly shown better form than Poor Ickle Theo. But he’s got a loudmouth dad who nobody likes, ergo Walcott – despite playing terribly in the games against Mexico and Japan – is a more deserving inclusion. People keep mentioning his hat-trick against a lacklustre Croatia side two years ago as if that single performance should be enough to guarantee him a place.
Which is nonsense, obviously. While there’s something to be said for the theory that Adam Johnson should have pinched the seat reserved for ‘tricky winger, only likely to get a game if someone’s injured’, Capello’s right to go for the more experienced, in-form Wright-Phillips ahead of Walcott. The difference between the two was clear for all to see against Mexico and Japan – Wright-Phillips looked like a man playing for his place, while Walcott…well, didn’t. Did he get complacent? There’s perhaps something to be said for that suggestion – certainly the way the press are reacting, his exclusion came as much of a surprise to the player as to the pundits themselves. Perhaps Walcott assumed he was on the plane and held back in the friendlies, wary of injuring himself; Wright-Phillips, by comparison, threw himself into challenges and looked far livelier going forward.
Walcott’s time will very probably come – by 2012 he’ll be older and wiser and hopefully have a few more games under his belt. But Capello’s right to give him the summer off on this occasion, and we shouldn’t be at all shocked at what is a very sensible, pragmatic decision by the Italian.