The life of Theo Walcott must be a peculiar one, thrust into the limelight in 2006 as a 17 year-old when picked for the England World Cup squad, the glare has been on him ever since. When he scored a hat-trick against Croatia for the national team last September he was hailed as the next English great.
Fast forward nine months and the knives have come out for a player who at the tender age of 20 is still learning his trade. Following a terrible week for Arsenal, where they were comfortably dispatched at home by both Chelsea and Manchester United, Walcott is one player that has come in for robust criticism.
On Monday, the Times ran a graphic on their website highlighting the wane of Walcott’s star since that virtuoso performance against Croatia. Breaking down Walcott’s performance since into appearances versus goals scored, the evidence was quite damning. Imagine a 20 year old suffering a dip in form? Write him off, he is finished.
What the graphic did not tell you though is that in the past two seasons Walcott has suffered two serious shoulder injuries. It also did not highlight his performance in the Champions League quarter-final against Villareal where he gave Spanish international Joan Capdevila a torrid time and scored a spectacular goal.
Young English players do not seem to be given the time or the space to mature in the rareified atmosphere of the Premier League. Promising players are lauded when they first burst onto the scene but with this praise comes added scrutiny. In a league that has its fair share of foreign stars fans are desperate to find local heroes but at times this pressure can become suffocating.
This is not to say young English players should be beyond criticism, but in Arsenal’s past two games Walcott was the not the only Arsenal player to perform well below par. Gabriel Agbonlahor is another player who has been on the receiving end of unrealistic expectations this season when he was disgracefully booed by his own fans after a poor run of scoring form.
The career of Micah Richards also highlights this particularly English phenomenon. A staggering physical specimen when he broke into the Manchester City and England team as a teenager his form has since tapered off and the criticism has been sharp.
At such a young age there are very few players who are capable, mentally and physically, of instantly finding their feet at the top level and maintaining that form, that is why the likes of Wayne Rooney and Cesc Fabregas are so special. Players are not robots and young talent needs to be nurtured, players need to be given the stage to make mistakes, learn the game and come back stronger.
The highest level of the English game is a particularly unforgiving place but expecting boys to perform like men is unfair and damages their confidence in the long run.