The chase for Southampton teenager Theo Walcott has dominated headlines for a few days now, all the more so after Arsene Wenger seemed to hint it was practically a done deal for the Highbury club at the weekend. Everyone claims to know someone with an answer, including the BBC who says they “understand” that Walcott will be told by the end of today (Tuesday) if “he will be granted his dream move to Arsenal”.
According to the BBC’s website, “Walcott is desperate to go to Arsenal.”
Meanwhile the chairman of Southampton has revealed that they have received two offers for Walcott. Speaking on the official Saints website, Rupert Lowe said: “We have now received a couple of offers and the indications are another may follow. These have not been accepted or rejected at this stage.”
It’s also been widely reported that Walcott has a pre-contract agreement with Southampton which binds him to signing a professional deal with the club when he turns 17. What is not so widely reported is that Walcott is not bound to honour that agreement – it amounts to little more than a handshake.
If Walcott chooses to be loyal to Southampton then he can join another club for the fee that Southampton request, but he’s under no obligation to do so. If he leaves without Southampton agreeing a fee with the buying club then Southampton will get the fee decided on by a tribunal, which could be substantially less than those figures bandied about this week. Tottenham’s Jermain Defoe was in a similar situation as a 16 year-old with Charlton Athletic when he decided to break his pre-contract agreement and join West Ham. His fee was decided by a tribunal, who decided that £1.2m was sufficient compensation. That was in 1999, but happened again as recently as last month when Chelsea picked up Stockport County’s 16-year-old defender for a knockdown £800,000. All that Walcott has to do is to ask to leave before his birthday – on March 16th – and Southampton will find the fee is no longer one for them to set themselves.
As ever during a transfer window stories being fed to the press aren’t always completely accurate. Theo Walcott is regularly being referred to as a lifelong Arsenal fan, a boyhood gunner, but this is not the truth. Walcott admires Arsenal’s Henry, but is not an Arsenal fan. Walcott is a Liverpool supporter.
Former Reds striker and one of the biggest Liverpool legends of all time Ian Rush revealed a conversation he had with Walcott recently where he spoke of his love for the Champions of Europe. Rush wrote in his column for the Liverpool Echo about the stories Walcott had already signed for Arsenal. Rushie said: “If true, that’s a bit of a shock to me because I met the lad recently and he’s a massive Liverpudlian. When I was at the BBC Sports Personality of the Year awards in December, I was introduced to Walcott, who’d been short listed for the Young Persons honour.”
Rush described how the lad came across as instantly likeable: “He was a really down to earth lad. I remember thinking to myself he seemed the kind of youngster who’ll go far, not just because of his talent, but because of his attitude.”
There was one other thing about the youngster that impressed the former Kop hero: “What pleased me even more was the way he spoke about Liverpool. He loves the club. I joked to him he should sign for us and he admitted he’d love to one day.”
Rush also said that Walcott doesn’t seem to be motivated by money: “I got the distinct impression from my short meeting with the player that money is the last thing on his mind. My advice to Walcott would have been to stay at Southampton a bit longer, get a good football education at his current club and then come to the greatest club there can be when you’re ready for the next step. That’s Liverpool.”
Rush says he’ll be disappointed now if Theo joins another club: “Since I know how much he wanted to come to Anfield just a few weeks ago, and I presume Liverpool would like to have signed him, it’s extremely disappointing to read that’s not likely to happen.”
Now some might argue that Rush is saying this to try and stir things up a little, but he’s not the only source that says Walcott is a lifelong Red. What better a source than straight from the horse’s mouth? Speaking to Four-Four-Two magazine Walcott said how he was a Reds supporter, following in his Dad’s footsteps, and that he was as delighted as any other Red when Liverpool won their fifth European Cup in May.
He told the magazine which team he supported as a boy: “I was a Liverpool fan, because my dad followed them. I wasn’t alive during their golden era, but I enjoyed watching the likes of Michael Owen, Robbie Fowler and Steve McManaman. When Liverpool won the Champions League, I went mad. I was shouting so loud I think I woke up the entire village!”
He did also mention Arsenal, paying compliments to their captain: “You can’t compare me with the best striker in the world, but I suppose I do play the game in a similar way to Thierry Henry. I like to drift out wide and use my pace to wrong-foot opponents.”
The full interview can be seen on the Four-Four-Two website.
From what we’ve been led to believe from various sources, Rafa Benítez is certainly one of the managers that is interested in the player, and Walcott does seem to be interested in a move to Anfield. It’s difficult to know how far Liverpool are prepared to take that interest, and how much of it depends on Walcott’s willingness to break that pre-contract agreement, but there is still a possibility that Walcott could become a Liverpool player. What Rafa Benítez won’t do is pay way over the odds for a player who is promising but still unproven. If Liverpool do agree a fee directly with Liverpool, a lot of clauses will be added in to ensure that the full fee is only paid if the player does become a success.