Eriksson: I haven't seen Walcott play

May 8, 2006

Sven-Goran Eriksson admits he may have made the biggest gamble of his entire football career by taking teenager Theo Walcott to the World Cup.

Eriksson has never seen Arsenal's young striker play a game - except on videotape - and has barely spoken a word to him.

Walcott, 17, has not even made his debut for the Gunners and has never played a Premiership game.

But Eriksson is ready to make him England's youngest international footballer because is convinced he can handle the pressure and terrify defenders with his pace.

Eriksson said: 'Maybe it is my biggest, bravest, boldest gamble. It is a bit of a gamble.

'If you take a 17-year-old boy to the World Cup of course you cannot be sure.

'The feeling is that he is ready for it. I don't think he will be nervous or feel the pressure.

'We have spoken to a lot of people who have had him before. I think he can cope with it, handle it.'

Walcott will be the second youngest player in World Cup history if he gets on the pitch in Germany.

Norman Whiteside played for Northern Ireland in Spain 1982, aged 17 years and 41 days.

Walcott cannot beat Whiteside's record but he can beat Pele, who played in Sweden in 1958 at 17 years and 236 days.

Eriksson's chief scout Tord Grip went to watch Walcott play for Arsenal reserves in an unofficial match today.

He played 90 minutes for an Arsenal under-21 team against an Irish under-21 team. The Gunners won 2-1 but he did not score.

The England boss has only seen him at work in a couple of training sessions but, with Wayne Rooney facing a fight to be fit, decided it was worth a punt on Walcott's electric pace and raw talent.

Eriksson said: 'I have seen him on videos a lot but never in the flesh. Tord went to see him today playing for the reserves.

'I spoke to him a couple of weeks ago. I said hello after a training session.'

Eriksson had to rely on a glowing reference from Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger, who bought Walcott from Southampton in January in a deal which could rise to £12million.

Wenger insisted the youngster has the right temperament.

Eriksson said: 'I have not been able to go and see him playing in the Premiership so, of course, I spoke a lot to Arsene Wenger about it.

'In this case, what Arsene Wenger said was more important than with all the other players.'

Eriksson admitted he did not make a final decision on Walcott until just hours before he unveiled his 23-man squad in London today.

The Swede made shock selections with uncapped Tottenham winger Aaron Lennon, 19, and Middlesbrough's Stewart Downing, 21, both making the list.

The biggest surprise he saved until last and the 23rd name on the list confirmed the rumour that Walcott was in.

Eriksson said: 'I decided this morning. He has pace, a little bit like Lennon and Downing.

'He can beat people. Having people like that on the bench could be very good.'

The England boss admitted he never considered picking Walcott for the friendly against Uruguay in March.

But suddenly, after Rooney broke his foot, he decided he had to take an extra striker.

Walcott got the nod ahead of Jermain Defoe and Andrew Johnson, who are both on standby, and Darren Bent, who has missed out completely.

Eriksson confirmed he will give Walcott a taste of international football in one of the three warm-up games before the squad flies to their World Cup base in Germany.

His first appearance is likely to be in the B international against Belarus, at Reading, on May 25.

Walcott could also play in one of the friendlies against Hungary and Jamaica and that would make him the country's youngest international footballer.

Rooney, who currently holds that record, played against Australia in 2003 at the age of 17 years, 111 days.

Walcott will be 17 years, 75 days when England take on Hungary at Old Trafford on May 30.