Tyro's tale

Teenage sensation Theo Walcott burst onto the scene earlier this season with Championship club Southampton but has not played first-team football since moving to Premier League Arsenal in January. He is a fast and EXCITING STRIKER and has been fast-tracked into the England set-up for World Cup 2006 due to injury concerns over fellow speed merchants Michael Owen and Wayne Rooney, writes ANDY HAMPSON.

The shock inclusion in England's World Cup squad, teenage sensation Theo Walcott burst onto the scene earlier this season with Championship club Southampton but has not played first-team football since moving to Premier League Arsenal in January. Walcott is a fast and exciting striker and has been fast-tracked into the England set-up due to injury concerns over fellow speed merchants Michael Owen and Wayne Rooney.

Walcott was born in London but raised in Newbury, Berkshire. He is a distant relative of the great West Indian batsman Sir Clyde Walcott. Walcott made a huge impression as a child and scored over 100 goals in one season with AFC Newbury's Under-11 side. He also had a brief stint with Swindon before he was quickly snapped up by Southampton and starred in the south coast club's run to the FA Youth Cup final in 2005.

At just 15 years and 175 days Walcott became the youngest person to play for Southampton's reserves and first-team recognition came less than a year later, in a Championship match against Wolverhampton Wanderers in August 2005. At 16 years and 143 days, that was another club record.

The precocious teenager made eight substitute appearances before being handed his first start against Leeds in October, an occasion he marked with his first senior goal. In all, Walcott made just 13 starts for Southampton, scoring five goals. His pace and power earned rave reviews and such was the dramatic impact he made that a big-money move became inevitable.

Southampton did their best to keep him but in the end felt the best option was to sell. Being only 16 at the time, Walcott had not been able to sign professional forms and was only on a scholarship agreement. When turning 17 he could have signed with another club and Southampton would have received only limited compensation.

Reluctantly they accepted an offer from Arsenal that could eventually be worth GBP12million.

Walcott has very much been kept in reserve by Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger since. He has been named on the bench several times but is yet to be given time on the pitch. Nevertheless, when Rooney broke his foot just six weeks before the start of the World Cup, England boss Sven-Goran Eriksson felt he had seen enough of him to take a risk on him in Germany this summer. Little has gone wrong for Walcott as yet, but he must be itching to make his Arsenal debut.

He was first named on the bench for a Champions League match against Real Madrid and has been several times since, but he must bide his time. Walcott's sudden elevation to the England squad has also propelled his girlfriend into the news and she too has made the front pages of the tabloids. Walcott has been dating 17-year-old Melanie Slade for two years. He met the blonde A-Level student from Southampton soon after he moved to the town.

Walcott now has a smart three-bedroom apartment close to Arsenal's new Emirates Stadium. His mother and father, Don and Lynn, still live in Newbury with brother Ashley, 19, who works in a Cornish pasty shop. Sister Hollie, 22, lives nearby with her boyfriend and one-year-old child. The family have now cancelled a planned golfing holiday to travel to Germany for the World Cup.

Walcott is only just old enough to drive and is yet to pass his test. He was actually sitting his theory exam on the day he was named in the England squad. He recently said in an interview that he's got his eyes on an Audi A3 when he passes.

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Factfile

Position: Striker Club: Arsenal D.O.B.: 16/03/1989 England Caps: 0 England Goals: 0

Moment to remember: Walcott's career highlight, other than his recent call-up to the England World Cup squad, was his Southampton debut against Wolverhampton, when he went on as a replacement for Kenwyne Jones. He did not even have his shirt on when he was told he was going on. He had left it in the dressing room and one of the backroom staff had to dash back to get it.

Moment to forget: Walcott featured prominently as the Southampton youth side won 16 consecutive games in the run-up to the Youth Cup last year. There was to be no happy ending though as they were beaten by Ipswich.