The rumour spread quickly: Theo Walcott is in the England squad.
Surely not? A kid of just 17, without a minute of Premier League action, was set to board a plane alongside Wayne Rooney, Steven Gerrard and Rio Ferdinand as an equal.
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It was soon confirmed. Sven-Goran Eriksson, overseeing the envisioned redemption of England’s golden generation, was turning to this little-known youngster for the 2006 World Cup. He must be good.
Just four forwards touched down in Baden-Baden: Rooney, Michael Owen, Peter Crouch and Walcott. Two starters, two gamechangers. That was until Owen crumpled in a heap in the final group match against Sweden, promoting Crouch to the frontline. Surely Walcott would get his moment.
Still he waited as England laboured past Ecuador in the last 16. Whispers of confusion swirled around. Why was Eriksson so reluctant to field a player he had shown such faith in initially? Still, he would get another opportunity to throw him in.
When Rooney thrust his boot into Ricardo Carvalho against Portugal in the quarter-finals, and replacement Crouch looked hopelessly isolated in attack, Eriksson had to make his move. But he didn’t. His final substitution in the 119th minute saw Jamie Carragher come on for Aaron Lennon ahead of the shootout – just enough time for the Liverpool defender to get up to speed before missing his penalty as England crashed out.
The first chapter of Theo Walcott: Nearly Man was written. Every chapter has been practically the same since.

Theo Walcott, 2006 World Cup

Image credit: Getty Images

OK, what’s followed over the last 14 years has not been a disaster. His case of unfulfilled promise is streets from Ravel Morrison. He didn’t throw his career through off-field mistakes, rather he suffered from bad luck and a complete inability to build on his good moments. But has there ever been a player who could switch so seamlessly from world beater to also ran?
The kid that exploded onto the scene for Southampton had frightening talent. Sure, he was incredibly right-footed and lightweight, almost drowning in his shirt, but his speed, finishing and anticipation were evident to anyone.
But after finally breaking into the Arsenal team, it was clear he was a wide forward – a player most comfortable working alongside a striker who sucks players out of position, then exploding into the gap between centre-back and full-back. Indeed, his greatest moments came from that position.
And yet the seed remained in his mind that he was the heir to Thierry Henry, seizing the No.14 jersey at the Emirates and… that’s where the story largely stops.
That’s not to say he wasn’t a goalscorer. Far from it. He went on some brilliant streaks, notably finding 21 goals in the 2012-13 campaign. But he had a rare ability to revert to Walcott: Nearly Man at a moment’s notice as poor decision making and an undefined position marred his progress.
A hat-trick in Croatia in World Cup qualifying. A mesmeric run through half of the Liverpool team in the Champions League. For most players, that would have been a springboard to greatness. Instead, he went 22 games before finding the net again for England and failed to become the talisman Arsenal needed.
It’s odd writing that a player who won three FA Cups and bagged over 100 goals for Arsenal didn’t make it. Now at Everton, he is seeing out his days in the wilderness. And it's such a shame as Theo Walcott could have been so much more.
Listen to the Debate on the Game of Opinions podcast on Friday - will the Walcott argument stand up to scrutiny? Listen here.
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