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Last Updated: Monday, 8 May 2006, 18:36 GMT 19:36 UK
Walcott 'will handle World Cup'
By John May

Arsenal striker Theo Walcott
Walcott is no stranger to an England shirt
Theo Walcott is ready to play in the World Cup at just 17, according to his former mentor at Southampton.

Huw Jennings was Saints academy director when Walcott was with the south coast club, before his 12m switch to Arsenal in January.

Jennings told BBC Sport: "Theo has a circle of serenity around him which enables him to cope and keep a sensible perspective on things.

"He has got tremendous ability and pace, which England are short of."

Jennings, who is now the head of youth development at the Premier League, hinted that England coach Sven-Goran Eriksson had sounded out Arsenal coach Arsene Wenger on the 17-year-old sensation.

"Thinking about the last 10 days, Arsene Wenger was asked the question about Theo and he said England could do worse by not taking him.

"I would have assumed that some talks had taken place between Arsene and Sven," added Jennings, who believes Eriksson has also taken advice from his right-hand man, Tord Grip.

"Theo has always played above his own age group and still done well so there is no reason he should not continue that.

He has a confidence in his ability and as a result, fears nothing
Premier League youth development officer Huw Jennings

"I know Tord saw him play for England Under 17s a year or so ago and was very impressed by him."

Former Southampton manager Dave Merrington, who nurtured Matthew Le Tissier and Alan Shearer, said Walcott was a carbon copy of a young Thierry Henry.

Merrington said: "People regularly ask me if Theo is as good as Le Tissier or Shearer but he's different. The player he is most like is Henry. He has quick feet, superb awareness of people around him and good perception."

If Theo Walcott plays in England's World Cup build-up game against Hungary on 30 May, he will become England's youngest ever player, aged 17 years, 75 days.
Wayne Rooney is currently England's youngest ever player after appearing against Australia in February 2003, aged 17 years, 111 days.
Theo Walcott has made only 21 senior appearances - all for Championship side Southampton this season.
Wayne Rooney made 26 senior appearances before his England debut - all for Premiership side Everton.

Walcott has made a big impression at Arsenal despite being yet to make his senior debut.

His Gunners team-mate Kolo Toure told BBC Sport: "He is just fantastic.

"He is still young and learning but he is so fast, it is amazing.

"I have played against him in training and he is really, really quick. I think he will be one of the best strikers in England one day."

Jennings believes Walcott would be the ideal replacement if Wayne Rooney and Michael Owen fail to shake off their injuries.

He is an impact player who can come on and change the game
Huw Jennings

He explained: "In the past, England have been criticised for not having enough options to change if things are not going to plan.

"I could see Theo fulfilling that role. He is an impact player who can come on and change the game.

"If you look around the England squad there are not many players who could do that in the absence of Rooney and Owen.

"He is the type of player Eriksson is looking at as a means of providing that difference and if Theo goes to Germany, he would not let anybody down."

Walcott's appearance at the World Cup could also provide his former club Southampton with a windfall.

Arsenal paid an initial 5m of a 12m package which made Walcott the world's most expensive 16-year-old when he moved from Southampton.

The Saints stand to get a further 2m when Walcott has played 20 competitive games for England.

Eriksson yet to see Walcott play
08 May 06 |  England
Wonder of Walcott
20 Jan 06 |  Arsenal
Grip tips trio for stardom
19 Apr 05 |  Football

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