No sooner had Robin van Persie penned his now infamous missive about the direction of his beloved Arsenal than the pundits began speculating on the future of Theo Walcott. The press love a good crisis at Arsenal. But after last season, a single star player leaving would hardly make news, let alone justify the use of broken canons. So the rumors began flying that Theo would follow RVP out the Emirates door. Throw in a dash of Uzbekistan mischief and you have a proper crisis just waiting to be dissected. Unfortunately for the doomsayers (or fortunately depending on how you rate the England winger), Theo Walcott isn’t going anywhere just yet.
There are a variety of reasons why I’m convinced that Theo won’t be leaving Arsenal this summer. But his emotions aren’t among them. Usually when people begin discussing these matters there’s a fair amount of pontification on the player’s loyalty to a manager or love for a club. However, I think we’ve seen several stark reminders recently that there is little love or loyalty that factors into a player’s decision making at contract time. So I’m not going to bother hypothesizing about Theo’s devotion to Arsene Wenger or Arsenal. Because when it’s all said and done, I don’t think either issue makes one bit of a difference.
The real reason Theo Walcott won’t leave Arsenal this summer is that there is nowhere for him to go. That’s not to say there aren’t clubs that would sign him. I’m sure there are plenty of clubs throughout Europe that would happily take the pacey winger on board. But we should be well aware by now that Theo is only going to leave Arsenal for a club that will pay him higher wages, and maybe offer him the chance at glory he can’t find at the Emirates. That rules out a lot of clubs in one fell swoop.
An obvious destination for Theo would be Liverpool. The reason I say it’s obvious is because Walcott was a childhood Liverpool supporter. Liverpool can probably offer similar wages to what Arsenal will offer, but can they really offer more? The reason I pose that question is because it will be the player’s primary consideration. If Liverpool could double Theo’s wages, like Man City can, then he might be tempted to join the Anfield club. But they cant. And Theo Walcott is not leaving Arsenal to make less money at a club that will not participate in the Champions League and has no chance of winning the Premier League in the foreseeable future. No amount of affection for Liverpool will cause him to make that decision. So I think we can safely rule them out.
If Liverpool aren’t a potential destination for Theo, and you rule out the smaller clubs further down their respective tables around Europe, then you’re left with only the mega-clubs. Now we’re talking about Real Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Juventus, Milan, Inter and United. And of course there are the mega-money clubs like Chelsea, City and PSG. I can’t see Theo going to any of those clubs.
Chelsea have been rumored to want Theo at Stamford Bridge but that makes little sense. Look at some of the attacking players they have in their squad. Torres, Marin, Mata, Hazard, Malouda, Ramires. And it looks like Oscar and Hulk and a few others might be on the way. Hardly an outfit desperately in need of Theo’s talents.
Manchester City have even less need for Theo. Their strategy seems to be totally devoted to buying the biggest names from around Europe. While I still believe Theo can become a massive star, he’s hardly in Kun Aguero’s class. Are City going to risk a 160K/week contract on Theo with FFP fast approaching? I’d doubt it. It also seems a bit bizarre that City could have RVP, Nasri, Clichy, Toure, Adebayor and Theo on their books at the same time. I hate to point this out, but that collection of players didn’t exactly fill the trophy cabinet at Arsenal. So why would City want to collect them all at the Etihad. Again, it just doesn’t seem like a good fit.
I think we can also safely rule out United. First of all, Theo just doesn’t strike me as an Alex Ferguson type player. He’s also currently playing the same position as Valencia and Nani. It’s pretty easy to argue that both those players are better than Theo and United currently have a very hard time getting both those players enough playing time as it is. Adding Theo seems unnecessary and United have already added a flair player in Kagawa. Finally, there’s virtually no history of Fergie’s United doing business with Wenger’s Arsenal. (Silvestre never happened.)
Theo has proven to be at his best when he has space to operate. He’s a great counter-attacker but struggles when defenses park the proverbial bus. The pace of play in Spain is much slower than the Premier League and teams like Madrid and Barca face packed, deep-lying defenses on a weekly basis. Can anyone honestly see Theo playing tiki-taka at the Nou Camp? It’s laughable. Especially with the surfeit of talent they have at his position. And Madrid are are arguably even more complete.
Too much is made of the praise heaped on Theo ahead of Champions League clashes. Some fans have suggested that these accolades are evidence of how highly other teams rate him. But Theo’s an obvious choice for opposition praise because he has pace and pace scares defenders. He’s also an obvious choice because, as sad as it sounds, Arsenal don’t have many marquee players left. If you’re the opposition manager, and you want to praise an Arsenal player and call him a threat, other than Robin van Persie, which player are you going to choose? Theo is the next, most natural choice. And managers will often heap praise on players for whom they have no real affection.
Bayern Munich would be a potentially exciting place for Theo to ply his trade and they have the money to make it a reality. Furthermore, the pace of play in Germany is well suited to Theo’s game and there’s often a little more room to operate. But Bayern don’t even remotely have the need for Theo. At least not at this moment. On either flank they boast one of the best wingers in the world. Ribery is coming of another stellar season and Robben, for all his flaws, still has the ability to win games on his own (which is fitting because that’s precisely how he prefers to do it). Moreover, having already made some exciting signings this summer, and as one of the few clubs that is operated at a profit (gasp), Munich are highly unlikely to make Theo a high priority target.
Italy is an intriguing destination for Theo but I also think it’s unrealistic. Juventus have apparently tabled an 8 million Pound bid for RVP. If that’s their idea of an acceptable transfer fee for the Premier League player of the year, what will they consider appropriate for Theo? Whatever the figure, it’s hard to imagine it would be enough. Especially if they buy RVP. As for Milan or Inter, there’s been no suggestion that they are interested. Milan certainly don’t seem to need Walcott, and Inter won’t be playing in the Champions League this upcoming season, nor do they appear set to compete for trophies.
PSG is the one team in Europe that could afford to offer Walcott an immense wage increase and Champions League football while also arguably being much improved by his arrival. But there’s no denying that Ligue 1 is still a big step down from the glamour of the Premier League. For a player with a lot still to prove in order to be a regular starter for England, it’s hard to see him choosing a move to France.
Finally, there are two additional reasons I can’t see Theo making a big money move away from the Emirates. The first is his age. You could argue that this is the perfect time for a big money club to sign Theo. He’ll be turning only 24 years old this coming March. But as I just mentioned, he’s still mostly unproven. If he were to sign a 5-year contract with Arsenal this summer, he’d be just 27 entering the final year of that agreement. By that point he’d be approaching the “prime” of his career and be a much safer choice. Either he would have begun to realize his potential, or proved to be an over-hyped flash-in-the-pan. (Emphasis on “flash.”) If he had ascended to the level that some believe he can, that would be the perfect time for more moneyed clubs to make their bid.
The other reason I don’t see Theo leaving this summer is closely related to the point I just made. Theo isn’t as good as many Arsenal fans believe. At least not yet. I personally rate him highly and think he’s a great talent. But it would be ignorant to suggest that he’s one of the Premier League’s best attackers. As supporters we tend to overly adore or criticize our own players. Theo has been on both ends of that phenomenon. But in the cold light of day, I think most fans would agree that he still has to greatly improve his consistency and decision-making before he can truly be classed as one Europe’s best.
Finally, there’s the issue of what Theo wants. And Theo has made it clear that he wants to be a center forward. He might get that chance at Arsenal at some point. Then again he might not. But it’s pretty clear that no “big” club is going to take an somewhat unproven winger, sign him for huge money, then guarantee him a chance to play center forward. It’s impossible. It won’t happen. Not at Chelsea, City, United, Barca, Madrid, Munich, Milan, Juve, or even Liverpool. So if he truly wants to prove himself as a world-class talent, and have any chance whatsoever to play a few games at center forward, his only real choice is to stay at Arsenal. And that’s precisely what I expect he will do.
Poor Theo Walcott. It looks like he will have to stay at Arsenal where he is a regular starter for one of the world’s best clubs. He will have to play at one of the world’s best stadiums. He will have to live in one of the world’s best cities. And he will have to play in the world’s best league and compete in the champions league. And he will likely have to do all that with a new contract that will pay him a wage that few clubs in the world would offer.
Then again, maybe things are going to be okay for Theo after all.