Walcott on England
Sky Sports caught up with Theo Walcott whilst on-set at a Nike photoshoot for the new England Home Kit 2013 to discuss his thoughts on the Three Lions as he prepares for the showpiece friendlies against the Republic of Ireland and Brazil.
By Alex Dunn
Last Updated: 22/05/13 12:28pm
After a long season both domestically and in Europe with Arsenal will it be difficult, both physically and mentally, to get yourself up for the forthcoming England friendlies with Republic of Ireland and Brazil respectively?
Any time you play for your country it's an honour but when it comes at the end of the season the fact you're playing at Wembley and then in Brazil always helps. It's something to look forward to. For me, hopefully, it'll be a first chance to go to Brazil and looking at the wider picture, if we qualify for the World Cup it can only help the young guys to have had this experience. As with any friendlies, it's important for the players who've not had many chances to play for their country to grab any opportunity that comes their way.
The Brazil game will be the first to be played at the revamped Maracana at full capacity, 78,000. As players how aware of you of the history of such iconic stadia and as a seasoned pro, is it possible to maintain a childlike enthusiasm for playing Brazil in Brazil?
The fact it's likely to be a full-house just shows how much interest the game has generated. We played Brazil at Wembley earlier in the season and while they're not quite the Brazil we've learned to love if you give them a few more years, with the youth they've got, I'm pretty sure they'll be back up there at the very top. When we played Brazil at Wembley just being on the same pitch as Ronaldinho was surreal. I remember watching him on TV as a kid so it was special to play against him. His free-kick against David Seaman is something I'll never forget. To play in the Maracana is going to be an honour and in terms of what type of game it'll be I suspect it'll be totally different to what everyone would normally expect. With a fantastic and loud home crowd I suspect Brazil will treat it more like a tournament game than a friendly. As will we.
Regardless of where you're from, as a football fan there's an affinity with Brazil and invariably iconic players/sides you'll associate yourself with. Are there Brazil players you particularly identify with?
Ronaldo was my favourite Brazilian as a kid. It would probably be that era, the funny little haircut years. Rivaldo was an incredible player too, but you can't help thinking of that incident when the ball hit his leg and he went down clutching his face against Turkey (at the 2002 World Cup). I guess you can get over it when you look at what he achieved over the course of his career! Ronaldo for me was the player I loved watching most though. He was the main man.
I guess it will be invaluable in terms of gaining an insight into Brazil as a country in terms of climate and atmosphere as much as the football they play, with South America being unchartered waters for a lot of players?
Exactly, getting used to the conditions, the heat and the atmosphere over in South America will be a really useful exercise. It will be very difficult to go out there and get a result, there's no doubt about that, but if we show courage there's no reason why he can't put in an encouraging display. It's an opportunity for all the players to show what they're about. It's a chance to stake a further claim of making the squad for Brazil 2014, if of course we get the job done in qualifying. I think once we get the buzz of playing in front of the Brazilian crowd - and how their players feed off that atmosphere by showing off their flair to the fans - we'll equally want to show what we're about and play our own game.
It must be in the back of your mind that to miss out on a World Cup in Brazil is just about as bad as it can get as a player...
I obviously missed the 2010 World Cup and that was quite painful so I know what it feels like first hand. To see the guys go out the way they did, with that 'goal' that never was against Germany it's not nice; you want to try and help your team-mates out. Being in a tournament in Brazil is just something so special. Not many players get to play in World Cups so we don't want to be one of those that missed out. The fans want to have a great tournament as well, so it's just as important for them. When the tournament kicks-off next summer there's going to be so much of a buzz. I haven't really had too much tournament experience other than the Euros two years ago, so to play in a World Cup is something I really want to achieve as a player.
Any game with Brazil provides an opportunity to look at emerging talent that we maybe don't know so much about if they're still based in South America. As a player, does it excite you to play against people like Neymar, to experience first-hand just how good they are?
Absolutely, it will be interesting to see if anything does actually happen this year with Neymar, it's obviously well documented that he's very highly rated. He's a very good player; I'd like to see him in the Premier League personally. I think the Premier League is the best league to be involved in so if he tests himself there against the best players in the world we will soon find out how good he really is. I think there'll be a lot of teams who would want to have him in their squad.
There's always been steady influx of Brazilian talent to England - do you think some of their players will see the game as shop window to secure a move to Europe?
There's no doubt these friendlies will encourage the Brazilian players to show what they can do. If they're playing for their country they're going to have real talent and I think there'll be a lot of scouts representing English clubs out in Brazil watching the game. When it comes down to it, if they're good enough, they're going to get given these opportunities and the chance to come to the Premier League. You see a lot of nationalities who come to the Premier League, it's where you want to be as a player and I've no doubt they'll be some of the Brazil side who'd fancy it.
It's the Brazil game that perhaps has caught the attention most but playing the Republic of Ireland is always an occasion. Would you favour a return of the Home Nations?
I don't follow rugby very well but I always enjoy it when all the nations play against each other in the Six Nations tournament as I think it brings everyone together a little bit. It's just a great buzz with bragging rights to play for. It's a different test as well. I think if we play these sorts of games it will help us even more when we go to play other countries. I think Ireland won't want to lose against England; England definitely won't want to lose against Ireland. That's what it comes down to; the stakes are high because nobody wants to lose in their own back yard.
Ultimately these games are about fine tuning ahead of the serious business of qualification. How do see the group as it stands and England's position in it?
We've got three games at home and we would expect to win all of those games, we need to. We don't want it to be like what happened a few years back when we didn't make the Euros. I was watching from the stands and it's not nice seeing England not reaching a major tournament. When you think of tournaments, you think England will be there no matter what. It's been an up and down group to be honest; we haven't really taken opportunities when we've had them. We've played well at times; the Montenegro game - I think the first half was the best I've actually seen us play for a very long time to be honest. At Wembley we're playing great now, it's just about turning that into results. When it comes down to it, we've not conceded too many goals which is important, we just need to start putting it in the back of the net. I think all the games are going to be difficult, we won't focus only on the Montenegro game, which people are saying will decide the group. I think the next game is always the most important for us. We know what we have to do, we don't want to be relying on other teams, we just need to make sure we get the job done.
On a personal level you go into the games in fine form, arguably the best of your career. You must be as confident as you've ever been?
The target was to get between 15 and 20 (goals) and I've done that. Overall, it's been a consistent season. I had a little setback with injury but I'm buzzing now. First and foremost I've wanted the team to be where they should be; getting three points is the most important thing. But now I've reached my targets I want to keep pushing myself and improve every year. The manager has always had his faith in me and the players as well; they've shown their support throughout the year. In the last couple of years I've been happy with my form, but I think this season even more so.
Watching you there's a sense you're starting to appreciate your own abilities more, is that fair?
My best football comes out when I'm feeling great. I think that's something I've worked on myself and I've always stayed behind after training trying to improve on everything and I think you can definitely tell that. When you practice it does pay off in the end. My mindset has changed quite a bit. Every year has got better and I think I'm enjoying my football now. I'm enjoying every minute of it.
Your desire to play as a central striker for Arsenal has been well documented, do you have similar ambitions for England?
With England there's always that option and the manager knows I can do a job up there. But my main priority is staying fit & being in the squad.
Roy Hodgson has been in the England job for the best part of a year now. How would you assess how he's done and how does he differ to his predecessor Fabio Capello?
Roy's been great, they're both very different managers; the way they conduct their team and the way they get their message across to people and the way they want to play. I think Roy likes to keep the pressure up but at the right time and do it as a collective. He likes to have everyone defending as a team, squeezing up, playing out wide and getting into pockets and trusting people with the ball, showing that belief that if you make a mistake, you take the blame. Capello was great in his own way; pressure from very high up and quick tempo.
Capello's formal managerial style has been well documented. Is it fair to say under Hodgson it's a more relaxed atmosphere?
It's very professional in terms of training, that's the same. After training, when you've got time to yourself to do what you want it's very relaxed. The organisation is perfect. Where it is now at St. George's Park, with everyone together, we know where we'll be now which is good. I think it's been a bit of a step-up in terms of facilities and the changes have definitely helped. I think the football's getting better at Wembley too, I think when we first went there it took us quite a while to get going in certain games but now you can sense games are definitely improving.
Performances at Wembley have been a moot point for many years, why do think they're improved of late?
I think now the confidence throughout the team is higher and the balance between the youth and the experienced players is working well. People always expect England to win their games at Wembley, expecting good performances. We don't want to let these people down and I think that's the incentive.
On a personal level it must be nice to have club team-mates alongside you in the England set-up. How have Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Jack Wilshere fitted in at senior level?
It's always great to have your team-mates representing your country. They're both very good players but very different. When Jack came back and played his first game against Brazil, you could see there was a different sort of aspect in the way England played. He plays like a Brazilian himself at times to be fair; very confident on the ball. If we all work hard together, hopefully it can be all three playing on that pitch at the same time. It will help Arsenal out as well if we're all playing for England together.
Wilshere, in particular, appears to have expectation of the nation on his shoulders. As someone who's been through the media scrutiny of being a boy-wonder yourself, do you offer him advice?
He is the sort of character who can handle anything. He's the sort of guy who can look after himself. He knows what to do, he trusts himself and he's very professional. He looks after himself very well on his own and at different times we go to each other for advice, that's the sort of respect we have for each other. It's nice when you've team-mates you can chat to and trust.
Given the organisation I work for I can't not ask about Gary Neville...
I've enjoyed every minute working with Gary. The meetings he does and the amount of work he gets through, is great. He's a winner. To have that level of experience in your changing room, giving you advice, it's massive. Added to that, he shows so much belief in every player and he's up for a good laugh as well so it's not always serious. He's very good on Sky, watching him on Monday nights. He's been a world class defender for years so he knows his stuff and they're the right people to listen to without a doubt.
I'm guessing he's pretty handy at making a point via video?
He's always there for you and he can always grab your own video links and anything like that. You can chat with him whenever you want and work hard with him after training. That's what he's there for. He would make time for anyone and it means a lot when it comes from him. He's been there and done it so he knows how players feel.
Theo Walcott wears the new Nike England Home Kit 2013, set to debut against the Republic of Ireland on 29th May at Wembley. Inspired by the distinctive simplicity of England's first kit, this is Nike's most technologically advanced and environmentally friendly kit ever. #theshirt is available from 28th May on nike.com