Gary Lim: Make use of your chance, Walcott
ITALY v ENGLAND
(Tomorrow, 2.45am, Juventus Stadium, Turin)
Theo Walcott was once the target for every Premiership heavyweight.
When it became clear at 16 years old that he was leaving Southampton, the likes of Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur made a beeline for his signature.
His dazzling pace made heads turn, and his willingness to take on defenders was a rare trait among English players.
England believed they had a new Michael Owen and so did then-manager Sven-Goran Eriksson, who handed Walcott his senior debut in 2006, making him England's youngest senior player at 17 years and 75 days.
As the Three Lions prepare for tomorrow morning's (Singapore time) international friendly against Italy, Walcott, 26, stands exactly where he was about nine years ago - on the fringe of the England manager's plans.
The Arsenal forward may start, but probably not entirely on merit.
Injuries and understandable precaution on Roy Hodgson's part have shorn the team of several attacking players, among them Raheem Sterling, Danny Welbeck, Daniel Sturridge and Adam Lallana.
When England beat Lithuania 4-0 last Friday, Walcott's cameo came only in the final 13 minutes.
Time may not be on his side as Euro 2016 looms.
He might have earned a spot at the 2006 World Cup squad when he was only 17, but he won't be an automatic inclusion in the Euro 2016 squad in France unless he finds a spark somewhere as he enters what is supposed to be the prime years of his career.
So what has hampered the man who was once hailed as England's brightest young talent?
Walcott missed almost 10 months of football in 2014 due to a knee ligament injury, which ultimately cost him a spot in the World Cup squad bound for Brazil.
He returned last November, only to suffer another injury setback while on international duty.
Hindrances like these explains why since he moved to Arsenal more than nine years ago, he has made only slightly over 130 Premiership starts.
Only twice (in 2011/12 and 2012/13) has he started more than 20 league matches in a season.
Luckily for him, the breathtaking ability to beat markers and his presence in the final third of the field have not waned.
Combined with his movement in the penalty box and his technique, he remains an asset to his country.
Lionel Messi once described Walcott as "one of the most dangerous players I have ever played against".
Apparently, Walcott still strikes fear in the Italians, too.
"I am always a fan of Walcott, a quick sprinter and terrifying for defenders," said centre back Giorgio Chiellini ahead of their clash tomorrow morning.
"England notice his absence. For the world of football, it is positive that Walcott recuperates totally to his top level."
Walcott, too, has expressed a desire to fight with his England teammates for a starting spot in Hodgson's permanent plans.
"Bring it on," he said, of the competition.
But he faces a tough climb back up the pecking order.
It's also a journey he must proceed with caution.
But when the chance for him to shine arises, he must grab it with both hands.
For, unlike most others, the opportunities don't come as often.
Against Italy, it's time to remind everyone just what he's capable of.
I’ve worked hard to get back where I am. I’m still easing myself back in, but I’ve had a taste of it and I want to get more of that. I’ve been training really well. Hopefully, going into Tuesday’s game (against Italy), I’ll get more of a run-out.
— Theo Walcott is determined to re-establish himself under Roy Hodgson
Competition is healthy. We want, as a nation, for all the players to be playing well. It’s only going to spur you on and make you a better player. Bring it on, definitely.
— Walcott ready to fight for starting berth with up-andcoming youngsters