Forgotten men of sad South African Summer set to prosper

by Keith O'Connell

Wednesday, August 25th, 2010

Neglected. Overlooked. Surplus to requirements. Out of form and out of favour.

Whichever spin you put on it, it was a disappointingly heartbreaking World Cup Summer for Theo Walcott, Adam Johnson and Joe Hart.  Oft muted as the future of whatever fleeting hopes of glory we may still hold for our national teams prospects, they were each expected to at least be picked for Fabio’s World Cup squad, and even likelier to play a major role for England lighting up the tournament with their immense talent and skill.

This sadly was not to be.  For Johnson and Walcott, various injuries prevented them from establishing a good run of games and form for their respective club sides.  Johnson, plucked from Championship side Middlesbrough half way through the season featured intermittently for City, but was used more often than not as a substitute as Roberto Mancini tried to keep all most of his expensively assembled squad happy.  He impressed when called upon, but somehow did not do enough to significantly turn the head of Capello.

For Theo Walcott, 2009-10 was a season of extreme disappointment.  He started the season not fully fit and then suffered the continual disruption of his recurring shoulder injury, which vied with his knee, back and hamstring for the attention of Arsenal’s beleaguered medical team.  When he played he was bereft of confidence, and for the most part looked a shadow of the player that we all expected him to be, with even his own fans turning on him towards the end of the season.  However, it was still expected that Capello would take him.  He was the golden boy who had lit up England’s qualifying campaign with that hat-trick in Croatia, and although he hadn’t looked himself at club level, he still had the habit of producing the goods against top sides, most noticeably in the quarter-finals of the Champions League against Barcelona.

Joe Hart, though at the time understudy to Shay Given at Manchester City, had suitably impressed enough whilst on loan at Birmingham to merit inclusion in the squad to form part of England’s round robin of goalkeepers, a competition that he was ultimately to lose to Robert Green and David James, warming the bench and getting splinters in his arse for the entirety of England’s four games.

Or did he lose…?

Of course we all know what happened next and there is no need for any more wailing or gnashing of teeth going over England’s calamitous showing and humiliating exit.  Well, not much anyway.

As England stumbled red faced from Bloemfontein, various “Golden Generation” reputations in tatters, those of Walcott, Johnson and Hart were only infinitely enhanced, merely due to the fact that they had taken no part in the embarrassing sequence of matches.

And what of them now?  Joe Hart has been Man of the Match in both of City’s games so far, pulling off a string of breathtaking saves against Spurs and Liverpool.  He looks the paragon of confidence and stability, adjectives purveyors of the English team have been unable to attribute to a succession of ‘keepers for many a year now.  Johnson equally has been in fine form, giving established left backs a torrid time and playing with a maturity belying his 23 years.  Walcott already appears to have made the right side of Arsenal’s midfield his own, and has impressed all and sundry with his attacking brilliance (except miserable Mr Two Banks of Four anyway), looking more and more the finished article with every game, with a more consistent end product allied to his obscene pace to devastating effect.

Maybe the World Cup wasn’t such a dead loss after all?

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