THEO Walcott is benefiting from the best 90 minutes of his career – in a side room at Arsenal’s London Colney training complex chatting to Thierry Henry.
The French forward and Arsenal cult hero returned to his old club last month for a spot of training to keep fit before returning to Major League Soccer duties with New York Red Bulls.
Walcott would have liked Henry to stay around a bit longer.
But he still made his mark, with words of wisdom that could fire the 23-year-old to even more memorable feats this season.
“It’s probably the best hour and half I’ve ever had,” said Walcott.
“I just went up to him. I didn’t expect it to be that long but I am glad it was.
“You learn a lot when you talk to someone with that much experience.
“It was about all sorts of stuff and maybe one day I’ll come out with it.
“But it meant a lot and it’s only going to make you get better.”
The conversation was another significant event during a season in which Walcott has made the transition from reckless youth – Chris Waddle once cruelly said the winger did not have a football brain – to mature individual, worthy of the 30 caps he has now amassed.
Even Walcott’s features have changed, the scar running right across his eye was as a result of a weekend confrontation with Stoke.
“I think it was Wilkinson – it must have been an accident, might been hand and nails,”
“He stopped me, quite a lot.
But there were loads of things happening off the ball which the linesmen and referees didn’t see.
“A few people have said it makes me look a little bit harder. But I honestly don’t believe that because I am the biggest softy of them all.”
Arsene Wenger has remarked that Walcott has become a man this season.
He has also become something of a predator, bagging 11 goals in the Premier League, making him, alongside Rickie Lambert, the top Englishborn scorer in the top flight.
In addition, he has pocketed a lucrative new three-and-ahalf year contract. And all after Wenger acceded to his request for an orthodox forward berth.
“I didn’t expect it to go as well as it has,” said Walcott.
“I thought it would take a few games to get used to it because I hadn’t played there for seven years.
“I have done it in training but matches are totally different.
“Of course there were nerves and a lot of pressure but when you are demanding to play in a certain role you need to perform.”
Yet Walcott still did not feel completely free, not with that contract situation remaining unresolved and speculation rising on almost a daily basis as the countdown to the end of the season went on.
“It might not have shown but there were definitely times when it was putting me off my game,” said Walcott.
“I was not starting a lot of games at the start of the season but when I got back in the team, it was time to get it sorted.
“The last three weeks were probably the hardest.
“It was on my mind too much. Luckily I coped with it all, which shows I have a strong character.”
And Walcott may get a chance to play in attack for England tomorrow if yesterday’s training session at St George’s Park is anything to go by.
For, with Jermain Defoe and Daniel Sturridge ruled out through injury, Walcott partnered Wayne Rooney in attack even though England’s 2012 top scorer Danny Welbeck was also amongst the 11 outfield players who completed the workout at the new training HQ.
“If the manager decides to pick us, it could work,” said Walcott.
“I am probably slightly quicker than Wayne off the mark. I am a runner, whilst Wayne likes to drop and can see any ball.
“He is something special and definitely in top form.”