Sven-Göran Eriksson called up 17-year-old Theo Walcott to his provisional England World Cup squad on this day in 2006, despite the forward not having played for Arsenal in the Premier League.
Walcott became England’s youngest international when he played Hungary in a pre-tournament friendly.
But he did not appear at the tournament as England reached the quarter-finals but lost to Portugal after Wayne Rooney’s red card.
Walcott was no stranger to making history from a young age. He was Southampton’s youngest-ever player when he came on at home in a 0-0 draw against Wolves aged 16 and 143 days, and two months later he came on with a goal in a 2-1 defeat against Leeds their youngest goalscorer.
His early promise convinced Arsenal to sign him in January 2006 for an initial £5m, which could potentially rise to £12m, but he had been awaiting his first-team chance before Eriksson called in the summer.
Walcott got the news of his selection from his father and later said: “I thought he was trying to hit on me. I was shocked and surprised like everyone; My eyes just popped out of my head.”
Eriksson admitted the selection was “a gamble” at the time but felt Walcott’s pace could give England a wildcard option.
But the Swede later admitted he hadn’t helped Walcott when he said the player never quite reached the level expected of him.
“Maybe expectations were too high for him, and maybe I didn’t help him with that,” Eriksson told OLBG last year.
Walcott later earned 47 caps for England but agreed his initial call-up came too soon.
“I was immediately thrown into the limelight having not even played a game in the Premier League,” he said.
“All of a sudden you’re surrounded by these top-notch players and you’re like, ‘Do I deserve to be here?'”