After Theo Walcott’s sparkling cameo against Sweden, calls were made for the 23-year-old to start in the final group game against Ukraine. This could also be put down to the dullness of James Milner, who has been playing ahead of the Arsenal man on the right side of England’s midfield.
However, Walcott doesn’t quite suit the ethos of England under Hodgson. It’s about consistency, hard work, and solidity. This isn’t to say Walcott doesn’t work hard; he’s a very down-to-earth boy with a good head on his shoulders, but consistency is not his forte.
This was no clearer than in the incredible 5-2 win for Arsenal over North London rivals Tottenham in February. Walcott had a terrible first half, getting basic stuff like ball control woefully wrong, and took a fair amount of stick from the fans. In the second half, he came out determined to turn things around, and fired two goals past Brad Friedel in an electric second 45.
The game was basically a microcosm of Walcott’s career so far. Timid and quiet one minute, explosive the next. But in an England side that’s based around solidity, does he really fit in, as a starter at least? Not really.
England’s game is based on defensive solidity, and they have enough about them to score without needing the pace of Walcott.
While he plays in a hybrid of 4-3-3 and 4-2-3-1 for Arsenal as an advanced winger, Walcott’s role in the England side would be a wide midfielder, where he would be expected to contribute to the defensive side of the game as much as the offensive side. The ‘two banks of four’ approach means positional awareness is vital, and the somewhat less mobile Milner probably has Walcott beat in the defensive aspect.
Walcott’s crossing has come in for criticism, but despite never having a genuine aerial target, he still assists a lot, and Robin van Persie has praised him several times for his crossing ability. He provided Danny Welbeck with a goal with a fine assist off the bench, and might thrive with Andy Carroll to aim for too.
However, it’s probably best for England that Walcott is used as an impact sub. While his performance wasn’t directly related to Sweden tiring – his movement was intelligent and his close control perfect – he’s still valuable in that sort of situation late in the game.
If England need a goal, bringing Walcott on for Milner would help, as it would sacrifice some of the security at the back and bring more attacking threat. However, this might not work from the start – England’s game is based on defensive solidity, and they have enough about them to score without needing the pace of Walcott.
While there’s a chance Walcott will be his explosive, world beater self, there’s an equal chance that his alter-ego will turn up
In some ways, Walcott’s electric performance from the bench has done him no good; he showed that he’s an impact player who, in this England side, might be more suited to coming off the bench.
On the other hand, Walcott’s style may well suit England going forward – direct, incisive, and more adept on the counter attack than in possession. However, the fact of the matter is, he still doesn’t offer the steady solidity that James Milner does, and this will most likely be what tips it for Roy Hodgson.
Hodgson has hurriedly built a Three Lions side that is based on discipline, hard work and spirit, which suits the English mentality perfectly. Organisation and concentration are key, and the more experienced Milner trumps Walcott there. While there’s a chance Walcott will be his explosive, world beater self, there’s an equal chance that his alter-ego will turn up – and in that case England would have a little boy lost on the right side of midfield.
It comes down to whether Hodgson wants to risk it, or play it safe. And when you put it like that, it’s hard to imagine him picking the more adventurous, yet unpredictable, option.
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