Arsene Wenger says he knew he had seen something special from the very first moment he witnessed Theo Walcott play football.
The England international was then an unknown prodigy in the Southampton academy, but scouts from around the country had begun to whisper about his incredible talent.
Wenger took it upon himself to watch Walcott with his own eyes in an FA Youth Cup final against Ipswich, and the teenager did not disappoint. The Frenchman saw a boy with a level of football intelligence way beyond his tender years. It was probably then that he decided he would try to sign him.
SIGN UP NOW
Want to become a GMS writer? Sign up now and submit a 250 word test article: https://gms.to/haveyoursay4
But by the time Arsenal agreed a deal with Southampton for the 16-year-old, he had already broken into the first-team and scored several goals. As a result, the Gunners faced a much bigger transfer fee than first anticipated, but the £10million investment certainly seems a worthy price now.
Although injuries have plagued his ten-year career in north London, he has still scored 81 goals in all competitions and will almost certainly break 100 before eventually leaving. To celebrate his decade with the Gunners, Wenger spoke about that poignant moment he first laid eyes on him.
He told Arsenal Player: “[I first saw him play] in the FA Youth Cup with Southampton. I saw him in the final, he played on the left side where he plays now and I liked his movement off the ball. A player like him is very difficult to find and Theo's movement off the ball and intelligence is really his brand and [are part of his] characteristics."
A good signing?
Unquestionably, Walcott has been a good signing for Arsenal and for Wenger, but there is an all-round sense of frustration that the 26-year-old has, at least so far, failed to live up to the lofty expectations he set for himself.
Indeed, many had foreseen Walcott to becoming a prolific goal-scorer cut from the same cloth as Thierry Henry. He certainly hasn't achieved that, but Wenger believes he still has enough time on his hands to make a significant contribution to the club.
“Theo is very intelligent,” Wenger continued. “He always had pace and his movement off the ball was always perfect.
“I think he is much more conscious of teamwork and he has improved as well in his finishing. He is absolutely deadly compared to 10 years ago. He needed many chances to score a goal and today he can finish very well. His final ball and his technique are much better.
“Ten years here, that shows as well that he loves Arsenal and I’m convinced he will give us much more in the next five years than the last five because he is a player who is always moving forward and trying to do better. He has a very positive attitude."