Predictably, you can add the Independent’s James Lawton to the chorus of voices castigating England manager Sven Goran Erickson for his decision to inject 17 year old Theo Walcott into England’s World Cup squad.
Sven Goran Eriksson can call on any justification he likes, but whatever he does he should not even breathe the name Pele. Then a decision of astounding irresponsibility would be compounded by rank dishonesty.
Whatever position is taken on Eriksson’s move to take to a World Cup a 17-year-old of total inexperience in top-flight football, who has yet to command enough confidence in his club manager to play in his first team, there must be one severe caution. It is founded not in wild, hopeful speculation but the cold reality of experience.
It says that anyone who dares to compare Eriksson’s selection of Theo Walcott with that of the Brazil coach, Vicente Feola, when he picked Pele, who was also 17, for a starring role in Sweden in 1958, needs to be led off to a quiet room in the company of men dressed in white coats.
No, let’s not play around with words. The theory here is that Eriksson has committed a scarcely believable act of football illiteracy. He has broken the most fundamental rules of the game by investing so much in a boy who has not yet had one chance to show how he might cope in a real match with real pressures and against the quality and experience of players likely to be encountered in a World Cup. Comparisons with Pele, or even Wayne Rooney when he galvanised the England team so brilliantly in his first game, have to be discounted with maximum contempt.
Let’s think our way through this one. It doesn’t take much time. Walcott is good enough to be one of England’s four specialist front players in Germany this summer despite the fact that the other one is the thinly experienced and debatably talented Peter Crouch and the other two, Rooney and Michael Owen, are widely considered in professional circles to have next to no chance of operating at anything approaching their normal match sharpness in Germany this summer. Against this chilling reality, Walcott has not been compelling enough to demand a place in the Arsenal first team.