Theo Walcott ! Arry's Part In His Success.
Wednesday, 7th Oct 2020 11:05
Harry Redknapp was smugly telling the nation on Monday night about how he was responsible for giving Theo Walcott his debut, but of course the young Theo had been at St Mary's for a long time before Saints most hated ex manager arrived.
The first sight many would have had of Theo Walcott was in the two legged FA Youth Cup Final in 2004/05 season when Saints took on Ipswich Town, losing 1-0 at Portman Road and then drawing 2-2 at St Mary's to go down 3-2 on aggregate.
The games were televised and so for the majority of Saints fans this would have been their first sight of a player who despite still being at school was earning rave reviews in the youth teams.
Despite their win the Ipswich squad contained no players who became household names, whereas Saints had the likes of Leon Best, Nathan Dyer, David McGoldrick, Adam Lallana & Lloyd James all of whom would play for the first team at St Mary's, on the bench there was a kid called Gareth Bal whatever happened to him.
But the star of the Saints youth side was undoubtedly Theo Walcott.
In the summer of 2005 Theo left school and signed for the club as a trainee, unable to sign a professional deal until he was 17 the club also took the precaution of signing up to a pre contract saying he would sign a pro contract in March 2006 when he was eligible to do so.
Harry Redknapp was still Saints manager despite blundering his way through the last months of the previous season and getting us relegated and although some of our squad notably Peter Crouch had left, we still had the basis of a good team and were expected to challenge for a quick return to the Premier League.
The opening day was at home against Wolves and 24,061 turned up to see if we could start the season with a bang for once, but they would not see Theo until the 73rd minute when he came off the bench to replace Kenwyne Jones.
But if Saints fans though he would change the game then they would be wrong, 6 minutes later Claus Lundekvam was sent off and Saints were hanging on for the 0-0 draw they eventually got.
Theo was on the bench a few days later as Saints took a couple of thousand fans to Luton Town, Saints were 2-1 up at half time and after the home side equalised in the second half Theo was thrown on at the hour mark.
Sadly it would not change the game, indeed Luton scored a last minute winner to suggest to Saints fans that all was not well in their side.
Harry Redknapp the man who is now laying claim to discovering and giving him his debut seemed very reticent to actually play him, Dexter Blackstock was preferred to Theo at Sheffield Wednesday in the 3rd game, Kenwyne Jones getting a first half winner and Theo only playing the last 19 minutes.
Theo made his fourth appearance but again it was only a 20 minute cameo, Harry preferring his front two of Jones and Ricardo Fuller.
Indeed for the 5th game of the season a League cup tie at Southend, Theo never even got off the bench, a full strength Saints team cruised to a 3-0 victory, Ricardo Fuller could barely walk and was rested, Blackstock and Jones up front with Brett Ormerod coming off the bench.
This suggested that Theo was actually 5th choice striker at this stage, Saints fans were crying out for him to play, but Redknapp seemed to be refusing to do so just to spite them.
Indeed for the 6th game of the season Theo wasn't even on the bench, Nathan Dyer jumping above him for that role and a 3 minute sub appearance.
No Theo either for the 7th game a 1-1 draw at Coventry, not the 8th another 1-1 draw this time at home to QPR.
In the next game a 2-2 home draw with Ipswich the crowd were calling for Walcott who was back on the bench, but he would not appear until the last 8 minutes.
For the trip to Derby another draw this time 2-2 rescued by a last minute Ricardo Fuller goal, Walcott was again notable by his absence.
By now Saints fans were getting very narked, the team was misfiring and was now thr draw specialists of the league, in 9 league games we had drawn 5 of them and lost 1, winning 3, but more to the point we were losing ground on the automatic promotion places and we were seeing some of the tired old pros that Redknapp had dragged into the squad playing ahead of the likes of Theo Walcott and indeed others such as Nathan Dyer.
It was almost as if Harry was refusing to give Theo Walcott his full debut because he was not going to bow down to the supporters, he was biting off his nose to spite his face.
Walcott had played just 94 minutes in Saints opening 10 games of the season, Redknapp was saying the usual things about not rushing him, but Saints supporters were having none of it and were asking why has been's like Dennis Wise, crocks like Ricardo Fuller and unheard of foreigners like Kamil Kosowski, were all getting in the side ahead of the likes of Walcott, Nathan Dyer etc.
Things came to a head in the 11th game of the season a league cup tie at Mansfield, in the previous round Redknapp had played a full side at Southend, this time he set out to prove a point.
There was barely a player picked who could be called a first team regular, Kenwyne Jones was the nearest we had to getting a start so far this season and although the side contained a few of those out of favour with Redknapp notably Rory Delap, Darren Kenton and Neil McCann, the rest were nowhere near Redknapp's first team.
The biggest surprise though was that Theo still could not make the starting line up and was on the bench only coming on as a 71st minute substitute a couple of minutes after Mansfield had scored the only goal of the game.
You sensed that Redknapp put Walcott on as he was in a no lose situation, if Walcott turned the game around then he Harry would be the hero, if he didn't then the most despicable man in football could sneer at his detractors about how the kids weren't ready for a tough season in a men's league and that is what he did.
But Saints supporters knew that Redknapp had gone from one extreme to another, he was now not concerned about Southampton Football Club, only about Harry Redknapp, he was putting his own ego above the club and he was already in typical Redknapp style at the time getting his excuses in early.
Redknapp will of course deny this, but you won't find many Saints fans who will agree with him, there might not have been too many Saints supporters in attendance at Field Mill that night, but sat at home he had lost the backing of the entire supporter base, he through in the kids to the slaughter and in doing so put his ego ahead of their development, how must the team have felt in the dressing room before the game, they sensed what was going on, Saints supporters certainly realised it after.
But it was back to business in the League and a run of four straight draws, in the first a 0-0 home to Plymouth, Theo came on for 22 minutes, in the second another 0-0 at home to Reading he wasn't even on the bench, Kamil Kosowski started though.
Two 1-1 draws followed, at Preston still no Theo on the bench and in the second at home to Hull Theo came on for Kosowski in the 76th minute, you almost sensed that when Hull equalised 3 minutes later Harry was smirking.
So here we where 15 games into the season, still no Theo Walcott full debut and in a grand total of 1,350 minutes Theo could have played he had been on the pitch for only 149 of them, an average of 10 minutes per game.
On Monday night when Redknapp told the nation how he knew from the very start that Theo Walcott was a great talent and that indeed he had known that for 3 or 4 years beforehand and then spoke of how he gave Theo Walcott his full debut at Leeds United and when Theo scored on 25 minutes he turned to his assistant Dave Bassett and said we have a great player here, he isn't giving the full picture.
Indeed these words in his usual style stuck in my throat as a person who had travelled 250 miles on a cold Tuesday night to see this game, Theo's goal did not put Saints ahead, Leeds had scored twice in the opening 19 minutes, the goal came against the run of play, Redknapp talks about Walcott's performance on that night but Saints display was typical of the time, we lacked passion and if the fans knew that manager wasn't interested so did the team.
Redknapp said the right things after the game.
"We will win more than we lose and you don't have to be Einstein to see that - I'm confident we'll go up.
"I've seen everything in this league and I don't think there is anyone better than us.
"I'm not saying we're going to finish top, but I think we'll go up."
No one believed him 14 League games gone, this was only our second defeat, but something was not right, we had won only 3 games, the last two months ago.
Redknapp's mind was elsewhere, he could see nothing to gain and everything to lose.
Theo would score in the next two games, both wins an hopes rose, but these would be the last wins under Harry Redknapp, the next five games would see 4 draws and a home defeat to Leeds, Saints 3-0 up at half time and that score still the same with 19 minutes left, then a collapse the like of which I have not seen before or since by a Saints team, 4 goals in 15 minutes seeing Leeds win 4-3.
Harry Redknapp by now was plotting his departure, after a final 3 depressing draws he announced he wanted to resign and in a complete reversal of a year earlier he returned to Portsmouth whose supporters were completely split and still are about Harry as a man.
Yes he won them the cup a couple of years later, but they still can't take the disloyalty he showed to Pompey in going to Saints and the complete hypocrisy he showed in going back to Fratton Park.
Saints & Pompey fans agree on only two things, Alan Ball & Harry Redknapp, one is loved by all and the other is reviled as man in the same measures.
ALAN BALL LOVED BY SAINTS & POMPEY FANS
Theo Walcott was now the star of the Saints team and finally given his chance it was clear he had a bright future ahead of him, but that is not thanks to Harry Redknapp.
Theo would get his 4th and final league goal for Saints in the first game after Redknapp left the only goal in a 1-0 win at home to Luton.
four straight defeats in December after the Luton game meant that promotion was now out of reach, George Burley was appointed and Redknapp's two allies in the dressing room Dave Beasant his assistant and Dennis Wise left shortly afterwards and a new dawn was under way, sadly it would prove false.
It would not include Theo Walcott who left for Arsenal on 20 January 2006, for a fee of £5 million, rising to £12 million depending on appearances for club and country. The original fee, payable by instalments reported in The Times as £5 million down, five increments of £1 million to be paid after each set of ten Premier League appearances, and £2 million in "bonus payments", was revised down to £9.1 million in a compromise settlement agreed in March 2008 as the club struggled for money as it became clear that new owner Michael Wilde didn't have the money to pay the wages of the players he had sanctioned signing.
Harry Redknapp will claim that he failed at Saints because of meddling from the then Chairman Rupert Lowe, but what Harry was riling against was Lowe's insistence on trying to bring in new techniques, to do that he brought in Clive Woodward a man known for introducing sports science to Rugby, Redknapp slated this at every opportunity saying that in his day the likes of Bobby Moore & Geoff Hurst discussed the game over a sausage sandwich after training, all the new fangled stuff was rubbish.
Redknapp was already a dinosaur though, Lowe made his mistakes in getting Saints relegated, appointing Redknapp was one of them and the biggest, but in fairness what he was trying to introduce soon became the norm not only at Saints but in football.
So it truly stuck in my throat when Harry Redknapp claimed credit for Theo Walcott, in fairness he seemed almost reticent to do so which is very unlike him, but he just couldn't stop himself.
Photo: Action Images
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