When we were young
On 10th September 2008, Theo Walcott made good on the promise that had seen him (prematurely) selected for England’s 2006 World Cup squad aged just 17. Still a teenager, Walcott – picked ahead of David Beckham – banged in a clinical hat-trick in Zagreb in a WC qualifier (apologies for the poor video quality):
A couple of notes…
Croatia were shit-hot at home, so this was some performance by an England side that was both fun to watch (a Capello team, no less) and seriously talented. The team that day:
David James, Wes Brown, John Terry, Rio Ferdinand, Ashley Cole, Theo Walcott, Frank Lampard, Gareth Barry, Joe Cole, Wayne Rooney, Emile Heskey.
A back four containing Terry, Ferdinand and Cole is three-quarters world-class. Lampard was in sensational form at this time (note no Steven Gerrard here – I assume he was suspended or injured), as was Rooney – again, two world-class performers in their prime. It’s such a shame that they couldn’t translate their devastating form in qualifying (nine wins in ten matches) into a similar display in South Africa in 2010. But that’s the regretful story of England in the 2000s – so many great players but, when it mattered, they never looked like a proper team.
And what of Walcott? Incredibly, this match marked the beginning of the end of the 19-year-old’s international career. Injuries ravaged his 2009/10 campaign, his form faded, and Capello didn’t even pick him for the 2010 World Cup finals – unthinkable when you see him in full flow here.
He made a cameo at Euro 2012, coming off the bench to score against Sweden, but coming four years after Zagreb, this felt like an echo not an omen. Injuries also wrecked his chances of making the squads for the 2014 World Cup and Euro 2016, and before you know it, it’s been more than a decade since the hat-trick and Walcott is no longer in the frame for the national team. It’s one of English football’s cruellest stories.