Sven: No regrets over Walcott World Cup choice

August 24, 2007

Sven-Goran Eriksson has no regrets about pitching Theo Walcott into the frenzy of an England World Cup campaign.

The pair are due to come face-to-face tomorrow for the first time since England were dumped out at the quarter-final stage by Portugal last summer.

Although Walcott did not make an appearance in the tournament, in many ways he was one of its major stories as Eriksson plucked him out of the Arsenal reserve team and threatened to launch the 17-year-old rookie onto the biggest footballing stage of all.

Walcott is still not a regular starter for the Gunners, although he is set to make more than the 32 appearances he managed last term.

Some critics have suggested Eriksson's decision to pick him for England at such a young age had a detrimental short-term effect on his career.

However, the Manchester City boss argues otherwise.

'I didn't feel as though I was putting him under a lot of pressure,' said Eriksson.

'In fact, I am sure about it because I checked that very carefully with those around him.

'I don't regret taking him to Germany and I don't think the alternatives to Walcott at the time would have changed anything in the World Cup.'

In fact, Eriksson is so convinced about Walcott's talent he believes the former Southampton player could eventually be a suitable replacement for Thierry Henry.

Certainly the City chief sees similarities in the pair, not least in their incredible pace and the fact they are so easy on the eye.

'Walcott will be a good player,' said Eriksson.

'You can compare his pace with Thierry Henry. It is absolutely incredible, far beyond the normal.

'He has good knowledge of football and good technique. At Under-21 level, the opposition have to foul him to stop him.

'The other thing is that, like Henry, he is so stylish.

'It is nice to watch him playing football. That is important as well.'

Not that Eriksson will want Walcott to have too much of an impact at the Emirates Stadium tomorrow as City look to maintain their 100% start to the season and an impeccable defensive record of three successive clean sheets.

Eriksson knows it will not be easy. For a start, City have not beaten Arsenal in an away game since 1975 and, with Bulgaria international Valeri Bojinov out for up to five months, the Blues are short on firepower.

Still, their defence, marshalled by outstanding England star Micah Richards, remains in tact, while Kasper Schmeichel continues to impress in goal.

It is a measure of the performances Schmeichel has produced this term that within the space of a fortnight, Eriksson has gone from emphasising the need to buy an experienced keeper to admitting he does not require another one after all.

Current England Under-21 international Joe Hart is the man presently applying the pressure to Schmeichel, with Eriksson now conceding it would require the unexpected availability of one of the best stoppers in the world to persuade him to reinforce his goalkeeping pool.

'We have not completely forgotten about the goalkeeper but if you want to find a keeper much better than the ones we have, there few in the world to choose from,' he said.

'I don't think Chelsea will sell Petr Cech and Juventus will not sell Gianluigi Buffon. But it is that sort of level you have to reach.

'There was a lot of talk about buying another goalkeeper because, at that age, when the player has no experience of the Premier League, you cannot be sure whether they will be able to handle the situation.

'But the way Kasper handled the Manchester derby made me more confident and I am not worried anymore.

'Maybe these young goalkeepers will make some mistakes because they do not have the experience.

'But that is part of football. You can't get experience sitting at home watching on TV. You have to be out on the pitch.'