Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Austin Still the Model for Theo's Future Plans; Players Were Rival Strikers as Kids and While Southampton Goal Ace Is Excelling Up Front, Walcott Has a Fight on His Hands to Lead Line

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Austin Still the Model for Theo's Future Plans; Players Were Rival Strikers as Kids and While Southampton Goal Ace Is Excelling Up Front, Walcott Has a Fight on His Hands to Lead Line

Article excerpt

Byline: Arsenal v Southampton James Olley Chief Football Correspondent

THEO WALCOTT'S ongoing search for validation as a centre-forward began at a young age. After catching the eye in a number of smallsided junior games, a 10-year-old Walcott was invited for a trial as one of 100 boys selected by the Newbury and District Primary Schools FA.

His pace excited coaches from the outset and although Walcott was handed a place as a striker in the Under-11s squad, those in charge made it clear he was second choice behind another promising youngster by the name of Charlie Austin.

"He was playing for Newbury when I joined them," said Walcott. "People were telling me about Charlie, saying I wouldn't get into the team. But later, he began training with Reading so Newbury were pleased to have me there, ready to come in.

"I think in my first season, I scored something like 90 goals. Football is different at that age, obviously, although I wish it was like that now!

"Later on, he came back to District and we played up front as a pairing. We hit it off and worked really well together. We went our separate ways but we enjoyed playing together back then."

Walcott has kept a picture of his days alongside Austin in Newbury's ill-fitting green-and-white kit.

They will reconvene for the first time since Austin made his PS4million move to Southampton when the Saints visit Emirates Stadium this evening and perhaps reflect on markedly different career paths.

While Austin worked as a bricklayer and played part-time at Poole Town only seven years ago before rising through the ranks at Swindon and Burnley, Walcott was taken to the 2006 World Cup as a 16-year-old, six months after joining Arsenal from Southampton.

Austin has not enjoyed the same profile as his former team-mate but there has been belated acknowledgement of his talents as a centre-forward ever since scoring 18 goals in a Queens Park Rangers side relegated from the Premier League last season.

Leicester offered PS12m for his services last summer, making the fee Southampton paid just over a fortnight ago something of a steal -- a view reinforced when he came off the bench to score the winning goal at Manchester United on his debut.

Austin scored in both of his previous League appearances against Arsenal and Saints boss Ronald Koeman must weigh up whether to give him the chance of extending that run from the outset or start Shane Long, one of the main architects of their 4-0 win over the Gunners on Boxing Day.

"He is a great signing for them but we have done our homework," said Walcott. "We need to make sure we deal with Charlie if he starts or not. Long, who played against us last time, did very well. They have Graziano Pelle so there are great options for them. …

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