English Institute of Sport

January 2007

There is a fascination with seeing young people succeed in sport. The hype associated with young, talented athletes is amazing; reinforced and recognised by major sports brands offering amazing sponsorship deals. These brands understand the popularity, effect and influence young talented athletes have on lay people.

With this summer’s football World Cup rapidly approaching, a huge amount of focus has been on Theo Walcott, the 17 year old selected for England’s World Cup squad, having not yet played a domestic Premiership game. With that in mind and as a two part special, we asked English Institute of Sport psychologist Roberto Forzoni to look at just what the World Cup might mean to this young star…

Theo Walcott was just 16 years and 143 days old when made his professional debut and came on as a substitute in Southampton’s 0-0 draw at home to Wolves. His transfer to Arsenal, where he is yet to make a first team appearance, is valued at £12 million. His recent call up to the World Cup squad not only caused a media frenzy, but the revelation that Sven had not even seen him play caused a sensation among football fans everywhere.

The advantages a player like Theo Walcott might have against some of the older and more experienced players in the World Cup could include:

(1) No opposition team knows Walcott (nor can they get tapes of him playing in the Premiership – as he has yet to play there!). This means there is a massive element of surprise for opposition players. They will not know what he is capable of so cannot plan against him.
(2) Walcott is so inexperienced at first team international level that he may not even realise how important the World Cup might be perceived to be by older players; consequently he may simply have nothing to fear and really enjoy the experience. Happy players are generally good performers so the lack of experience could translate into a phenomenal World Cup for the youngster.
(3) Simply going to the World Cup and experiencing what it takes to be with an International Squad, away from home for a long period of time, will give Walcott a massive benefit for future tournaments – even if he does not play in this one. The benefit of just warming up in big stadia and sitting on the bench will be invaluable in his international and club development – David Beckham was invited to sit on the Utd bench at the age of 14.

Theo Walcott playing for England B against Belarus

The New Pele?

People have been quick to compare Walcott with the young Pele. Other comparisons are inevitable. There was a similar public frenzy surrounding Pele prior to the 1958 World Cup, but the Samba legend is quick to point out that he already had stacks of experience prior to the World Cup finals in Sweden. “Walcott has not played a game in the Premier League yet,” said Pele. “But when I went to that World Cup in Sweden I had been playing in the first team with my club Santos for a year. Also, I think I had played five times for Brazil, the first time when I was still 16 and I scored a goal against Argentina. And that was almost a year before the..