ARSENAL winger Theo Walcott’s international career lies in tatters this morning after Fabio Capello ruthlessly axed him from England’s World Cup squad.
Walcott, 21, was the shock name among seven victims as manager Capello whittled down his party to the final 23 yesterday.
Everton defender Leighton Baines was also culled, as were Sunderland striker Darren Bent, Manchester City winger Adam Johnson and West Ham midfielder Scott Parker.
Tottenham pair Tom Huddlestone and Michael Dawson were the others to receive the dreaded phone call.
Midfielder Gareth Barry was passed fit after an 11th hour test, while Walcott’s omission means his Manchester City team-mate Shaun Wright-Phillips is also in. Aston Villa’s Stephen Warnock, not Baines, will be Ashley Cole’s understudy at left-back.
Walcott, then 17, was the shock name in England’s 2006 World Cup squad, earning a call-up from Sven-Goran Eriksson despite not having played a Premier League match.
This time the surprise is that he will not be among the party flying out to South Africa this evening. An injury-blighted 18 months has seen his standing subside, but he had still expected to be included and was last night said to be stunned by the snub.
“I am very disappointed not to be included in the squad going out to South Africa, but completely respect Mr Capello’s decision,” said Walcott, who was playing golf when the Italian called him to break the news. “I would like to wish the team the best of luck and hope they have a really successful tournament.”
Walcott looked to have a bright future under Capello when he hit a hat-trick in a 5-1 victory over Croatia in September 2008. But weeks later he suffered a shoulder injury that sidelined him for six months, and was plagued by niggles during the last campaign, making just 15 starts.
Barry’s recovery from an ankle injury is a major relief to Capello, with the 29-year-old the only specialist holding midfielder in the squad, although he is still likely to miss the opener agaonst USA on 12 June.
Bent, who hit 24 league goals last season, did not hide his fustration at being the striker to miss out. “I feel really disappointed,” he said. “I have always said to myself, if you play well and do your best for Sunderland then there is a chance you can go to the biggest tournament in the world. But obviously on this occasion it has not worked out.”