We are all aware of the frustrating inconsistencies that riddle Theo’s game but that doesn’t make it any less surprising that he won’t be going to the World Cup – and that Arsenal won’t contribute an England player at a major tournament for the first time in 20 years.
Having played regularly (when not injured) for Capello in the qualifiers – and contributing a hat-trick in arguably the best performance of his tenure – it will have been a bitter and cruel blow to be told yesterday that he wasn’t going to South Africa. In some ways I agree with the decision: Theo doesn’t regularly supply quality into the box, his close control is not brilliant and his now notorious ‘football brain’ isn’t the strongest. But in choosing Shaun Wright-Phillips in his place, Capello is taking a conservative decision that he could regret. He’s making a careful choice that puts the emphasis on assessing who can be relied upon making the fewest mistakes rather than who could make the difference in a tight contest.
Theo has the x factor
I’m not a multi-prize winning coach like Capello, and I haven’t seen the squad training every day for the past three weeks, but I would maintain that neither Theo or Wright-Phillips would be a starter and I would back our man to make the bigger impact as a sub. Theo has his faults and I’m by no means his biggest fan, but he does possess an ‘x factor’, a confidence and ability to make a difference to a match regardless of the opposition. He’s shown this more often coming on as a sub rather than a starter but you can see that flicker of something special that means he would be useful at a major tournament, particularly when there are so many other options for the right wing slot within the England squad; Lennon, Milner, Gerrard and Joe Cole could all play there.
Of more importance to us is how he will react, whether he can make the required improvements, perform better for Arsenal and win his England place back. Mentally, he appears very mature, sensible and calm and you would back him to become stronger as a result of the setback. But from a footballing perspective I’m not so sure.
He's a striker, not a midfielder
We should remember this is someone who didn’t even start playing football properly until he was 10 so he is, in effect, still learning on the job. His chances would be greatly improved, I think, if he played up front. Theo is an instinctive player. He’s much more likely to do something brilliant if it’s off the cuff – when he has time to think and plan, he’s soon stumbling and running into cul-de-sacs. He could be a killer as a striker, someone who doesn’t need or want to be involved in the game but who just wants to wait for that moment when he bursts into life, gets a goal and wins a game. No, he’s not the tallest and he would never be a target man but he will be a far bigger asset for us – and likely to enjoy a far more prosperous career – if we allowed him to play in his natural position.
The deeper concern is that Theo’s omission means that for the first time since Italia 90, Arsenal will contribute no players to an England squad at a major tournament. That is a disgrace, frankly, for both us and England. One of the country’s biggest, wealthiest and best clubs contains no footballers good enough to play for the national team. How did that happen?