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Page last updated at 17:42 GMT, Friday, 12 December 2008

Walcott says pressure can be hard

By Sarah Taylor and Kevin Hand (BBC London 94.9)

Theo Walcott
Walcott joined Arsenal in January 2006

Theo Walcott has had to get used to making headlines in his short career and admits that developing in the spotlight can sometimes be hard.

Being named BBC London 94.9's Young Footballer of the Year this week was a reminder that, for all he has achieved, the Arsenal boy wonder is only 19.

"A lot of young players develop without the cameras on them but Arsenal are on television literally every week," said Walcott. "And considering I went to the World Cup, a lot of eyes were on me at an early age."

The London-born youngster reckons: "Obviously there is a lot of pressure. It's up and down really.

"There are good periods and bad periods as young players always have and the best thing is to just bounce back from it."

Walcott, who grew up in Compton, near Newbury, played his first organised football match at the age of 10.

While living in Compton he started playing for AFC Newbury and during his one and only season at the club managed to find the back of the net more than 100 times.

My highlight for Arsenal would be the target I set at the start of the season to start the first game

Theo Walcott

He then joined Swindon Town as a schoolboy before moving on to Southampton. And it did not take long for his quality and talent to shine through.

In September 2004 he became the youngest person to play in the Southampton reserve team at the tender age of 15 and 175 days old, when he came off the bench against Watford.

He was also part of the team to make the final of the FA Youth Cup in May 2005, Saints losing 3-2 on aggregate to Ipswich Town.

After a short but highly successful half a season at first team level with the Saints (he made just 13 league starts as a 16-year-old) the youngster was snapped up by Arsenal in January 2006 for an initial fee of 5m, rising to a possible 12m based on appearances for club and country.

"At a young age it's just a fantastic achievement for myself," he said. "I've worked hard.

"Me and my dad were talking the other day. Just the mileage, all the cars blowing up, all the hard work, all the sacrifices and everything we had to make and it's all paid off in the end. All the decisions have been the right ones.

"The goals I set at the start of the year were to keep my place in the Arsenal team and hopefully push on for England and everything is going well. It's brilliant."

Despite a great start to the season, Walcott has been sidelined after sustaining a shoulder injury picked up in training with England in November.

"It has been emotional at times," he said. "But it has been a brilliant year obviously. Now I just want to get back fit, but the times I was playing have been fantastic for me.

"My highlight for Arsenal would be the target I set at the start of the season to start the first game. Have a good pre-season, no injuries and start the first game because it shows you're in the managers plans to be in that starting XI.

"It's been up and down but we're getting the results now which counts so we just have to push on now."

Alongside his successes at the club Walcott has established himself as one of England's brightest young stars.

"It's brilliant to be part of the England squad at a young age, to play regularly," he added. "I didn't expect to play in any of the qualifiers or to start against top international teams in the world.

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"To score for your country is a dream come true. It just shows all the hard work has paid off. I just have to bounce back from this injury and look forward to my come back."

Walcott's coming of age for England came in the Maksimir Stadium, Zagreb in September when his brilliant hat-trick sunk Croatia 4-1 in a key World Cup qualifier.

"I've had a lot of experience at a young age going to all sorts of stadiums and hostile places," he admitted. "But that first 15 minutes I was so nervous, I couldn't believe it.

"You could probably tell I lost the ball a couple of times but then got a good cross in and got a goal and from there it was just sky high really.

"I pinched myself afterwards. The whole team were fantastic that night. That's what we needed for England to get the right result and I don't think anyone expected that.

"I got the match ball signed by all the players on the way back. I got my shirt signed and I've got it in my house now. It's nice to look back at that and show people, it's fantastic to look at."

Theo Walcott was crowned BBC London 94.9's Young Footballer of the Year on Sunday.

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see also
Middlesbrough v Arsenal
11 Dec 08 |  Premier League
FC Porto 2-0 Arsenal
10 Dec 08 |  Europe
Walcott comes of age
11 Sep 08 |  Football


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