Friday, September 29, 2023

Lionel Messi wanted Theo Walcott’s shirt, Thierry Henry left him a note at Arsenal and Tottenham fans lobbed £16.32 at him

It feels like yesterday when a 17-year-old Theo Walcott became England’s youngest-ever player.

That record still stands to this day, even though a 34-year-old Walcott has doubled in age and looks set to retire from football.

Remember this kid? He’s about to retire from footballAFP

talkSPORT told you on Thursday that the former Arsenal and Southampton star has made the decision to hang up his boots.

In truth, Walcott’s career had been winding down since his Emirates exit in 2018, before underwhelming spells at Everton and Southampton.

But during his Gunners days, Walcott made some incredible memories.

After all, they don’t just hand out the number 14 shirt to anyone in north London.

In 2021, Walcott joined talkSPORT for an extended episode of Up Front With, and looked back on his early days at Arsenal.

He said: “Chelsea came in, so did Liverpool and Arsenal. It was one thing that my idol was there – Thierry Henry. Plus Arsene Wenger gave so many opportunities to young players.

“I just thought I couldn’t say no to them and I wouldn’t change it for the world. It was one of the best decisions I ever made.

“As soon as I walked in, the first person I saw was Henry. I thought, ‘Bloody hell!’ I looked so starstruck. Then Robert Pires comes in, then Freddie Ljungberg, Sol Campbell, Ashley Cole. I was like a kid with his autograph book.

Henry returned to Arsenal for a brief spell and let Walcott keep the number 14 shirtGetty Images – Getty

“I’ve never changed from that little kid up to now.”

Walcott revealed iconic striker Henry left him a note when the legendary number 14 shirt was vacated.

“I originally wanted number 8 but it was the season they signed Samir Nasri, so they told me I couldn’t have it,” Walcott added.

“So I just said I’ll take number 14. I’m not superstitious and I didn’t really think of the relevance. Then suddenly I thought, ‘S***, I’ve taken Thierry’s number’.

“I got a shirt signed from Henry and it said, ‘Do number 14, from number 14’.

“He signed it off, and if it was good enough for him, it was good enough for me.”

In his prime, Walcott showed why Sven- Goran Eriksson took him to a World Cup when he was just a kid.

Even Lionel Messi, arguably the greatest player ever, was asking for his shirt and publicly expressing admiration for him.

Messi was a public fan of Walcott’s, calling him ‘dangerous’ and questioning why he didn’t go to the 2010 World CupGetty Images – Getty

“When he [Messi] had the ball and he wanted to face up with me, he would turn and go the other way,” Walcott recalled.

“I thought, ‘OK, Messi doesn’t want to try and run past me, that’s a good sign’.

“We played Barcelona quite a lot and Messi asked for my shirt. I thought, ‘Wow, the greatest player in the world is asking for my shirt!’ I’ve got no words for that.”

Walcott scored more than 100 goals for Arsenal but a possible turning point came in 2014 when he suffered an ACL injury during a match against Spurs.

Having already missed the 2010 World Cup, Walcott was then ruled out of the 2014 tournament.

But his iconic smug gesture on the stretcher made it worthwhile – and that wasn’t the only silver lining.

Walcott continued: “The knee injury was the worst because I didn’t know I did it at the time, that’s why I did the 2-0 sign to the Tottenham fans.

“I got about £16.32 on my stretcher from all the coins they lobbed at me. That’s why I did it. I could’ve gone and bought some sweets, it was that much.

Arsenal fans will remember this moment fondly – even if it backfired on Walcott a little bitGetty Images – Getty

“All the tests were fine, I had a sharp pain for 20 seconds and then it was fine. I’ll never forget the phone call from the doctor. He asked me if I was sitting down. I went so white and burst into tears.

“I looked back at that and thought it was a blessing, because my son was born and I never missed it. Things happen for a reason – and that was my reason. I wouldn’t change it.

“Now that I’ve got kids, I look at football differently. They’re on my boots and I’m playing for them.”

Theo Walcott might not be seen at the highest level again, but watch out for another potential Walcott in the years to come…

When asked about his kids, Walcott said: “I won’t force it on them, but I do practice with them a lot, especially with Finley. He’s got a good kick.”

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