Theo, the toast

One major journey which began from Southampton ended in tragedy. But, Theo Walcott, 16, who has recently been signed by Arsenal from first-division club Southampton for GBP12m is not too bothered about what happened to the Titanic as he embarks on his voyage, which according to many pundits is likely to have an ending almost as glorious as that of his childhood hero, Thierry Henry.

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, the man who spotted Henry's potential during his managerial stint with French club Monaco, is dead certain that Walcott's strengths are similar to those of Henry's when the Frenchman was at the beginning of his professional career. Wenger also believes that Walcott's achievements can be compared with those of Wayne Rooney at the same age. "I want to be cautious with comparisons though," said Wenger. "But the financial gamble is worth it because of a vibe I feel and I am very confident that I will be right."

Wenger, whose mid-season signing also included Monaco's Togolese striker Emmanuel Adebayor, is now rebuilding his side for a long-term challenge on Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United.

Walcott, who is called by many as the next Wayne Rooney of English football, cannot sign a professional contract until his 17th birthday on March 16. But, Wenger may well use him as a substitute in at least a couple of games before the English lad's big day. This would alter the legal complications in Arsenal's favour considering that `Big Wolves' Chelsea were believed to be on the Walcott hunt in December and they are waiting to throw in cash once Walcott turns professional.

But, the little man apparently has a big mind — reports indicate that he told the Southampton management that he wanted to be in a strike pairing with Henry and the club management was forced to honour the Arsenal bid though the Chelsea bid was reported to be marginally higher.

The young Walcott is far from over-awed at the thought of having to hoodwink the best defenders. "I have played 20 matches in the Championship and scored four goals. I have succeeded against men, so the Premiership is not going to be a problem really."

N. U. Abilash