Welcome to Last Word on Football’s ‘Returning Players’ series. In this edition, we take a look at Theo Walcott.
At the age of just 16, Walcott lit up St Mary’s Stadium with some incredible performances as a youngster for Southampton. His quick movement and dribbling made him seem like not only one of the hottest prospects in the Championship, but in England.
Returning Players – Theo Walcott
First Spell at Southampton
Walcott broke into the first-team picture at a young age and instantly had an impact for the Saints in the second tier. Despite his youth, he played in 23 games for the club in the 2005/06 season and contributed five goals.
Although Southampton only finished 12th in the second tier, he impressed many with his showings and the fact he was able to readily contribute, despite being just 16.
It meant that no sooner had he begun his Southampton career than he was snapped up by a bigger team – in this case, it was Arsenal.
Teams That Theo Walcott Played for in Between
Despite being 17, Theo Walcott had to quickly adapt, not only Premier League level football, but to high-end Premier League football at that. Arsenal were challenging for the Champions League places and trying to win the top tier title, so he had to try and hit the ground running.
He was thrown straight into the mix and featured 32 times in all competitions with 16 Premier League outings. Even though he started just five of those league games, he still managed to bag himself three assists and the promise that he initially showed was still there
A year later, as the Gunners managed to climb a place higher to third, he became a more prominent and productive member of the team. He played in 25 Premier League games and it led to more goal contributions too, as he managed seven in total from the wing.
Rather than letting him leave on loan to grow and get experience elsewhere, Arsenal were readily trusting him to start for them and to make an impression.
As he moved into his 20s, he slowly established himself as a first-team regular and an important player. At 22, he featured the most he had ever featured up to that point with 35 league appearances and he repaid that faith in him with 16 goal contributions in the league.
A year later, Walcott had arguably his best-ever season. He featured in three less Premier League games and yet his production exploded. Although his 14 goals and ten assists was not enough to get the Gunners any higher than fourth, it showed that Walcott was where he belonged.
The issue with Walcott was most certainly his injuries. The winger featured only 13 and 14 times in the league in the next two seasons but then shot back to prominence as Arsenal finished second in 2015/16 with seven goal contributions.
It would prove to be his last title-challenging campaign for Arsenal. With the Gunners finishing fifth and sixth in the next two campaigns, and with Walcott featuring only six times in the 2017/18 season, he waved goodbye to the Gunners after twelve seasons and moved to Everton.
With the Toffees, he proved he could still produce a flash of brilliance in the Premier League. He managed six goal contributions in 14 league games during his first year and after his game time was upped to 37 appearances a year later, his goal contributions also increased.
But, under Carlo Ancelotti, Everton were set to undergo a rebuild and overhaul to get the club back towards the European places that they wanted – and this meant Walcott struggled to compete and opted for a return to the south coast.
Return to Southampton
Although only on loan, he has been thrown straight into the mix with his former club. He has started 15 league games so far during this campaign, and although he hasn’t been as much of a creative threat as he once was, he’s still contributed to Ralph Hassenhuttl’s side.
With four goal contributions to his name, he’ll be hoping to add more before his deal comes to an end, as the Saints look to climb back up the table before the end of the current season.
Although Theo Walcott perhaps hasn’t had as much of an impact as he would have liked production-wise, he still adds valuable experience to the Saints squad.
When he left the side, he was a baby faced 16-year-old just starting in the world of professional football. He has Champions League experience under his belt and has years of competing at the highest level, both for club and country, to draw back on. He knows what it takes to cut it at this level and can help Southampton both on and off the pitch to get to the levels needed to succeed.
On a personal basis, he perhaps hasn’t got the statistics and production rate that he may have wanted, but the two-time FA Cup winner still has time to help drag his side up the table and to help the younger players to better themselves.