Theo - will he stay or will he go?

Last updated : 13 January 2006 By Chris C
There has been a feeding frenzy over Theo Walcott ever since he emerged as the 15 year old star of all our conquering U18 team. A stunning goal against Arsenal in the Youth Cup certainly caught the eye of Arsene Wenger and today saw matters come to a head with Arsenal making their interest public.

All of the major players in the Premiership have had an interest in Theo Walcott, even as a 15 year old about to sign a pre-contract with the Saints. Now after an impressive start to the season, the Saints top scorer (yes, only 5 goals!), has reached a crossroads in his fledgling career.

Not yet on a professional contract he has signed a pre-contract agreement with Saints to sign a contract when he is 17. That contract looks set to make him Saints' highest paid player. However, if he choses not to honour that contract, it is down to a tribunal to award Saints compensation, that will be a fraction of his true market value, with the Guardian suggesting the figure to be a mere £500k.

This leaves Saints with a major dilemma. Should they go against all they believe in and sell one of our promising youngsters on which the future of the club has been staked? If he refused to sign a contract then the potential financial loss would be huge.

Therefore, Saints need to have a contingency in place. If he won't sign in the summer, then he needs to be sold now. Today saw this side of the coin emerge today with Arsenal the preferred bidders. No doubt the Chelsea millions will offer more, but Theo's representatives believe that Arsenal would be a better option for his development, plus the chance to play with his idol, Thierry Henry.

However, Walcott and his representatives may honour their previous promises and sign with Saints in the summer. In this case, Saints would be able to continue the player's development and if he really does have to move as seems inevitable eventually, then we will benefit from his increased value.

It is important to remember in all this that we are talking about a 16 year old boy. Football is a crazy world that can see him uprooted and sold down the road for millions at such a tender age. You hope that he will follow the example of Rooney and continue his development rather that of Jermaine Pennant who was sold to Arsenal for £2m at just 15.

But, football is all about money, for Saints as it is for the top clubs who have done so much to ruin the game by monopolising the best players with their Champions League millions. We shouldn't be surprised that someone so young, yet with so much potential is quickly shipped off.

We should find out in the next week which option he will take. If he's still a Saints come the end of the transfer window, he is likely to honour his pre-contract agreement. If he doesn't plan to, then a very brief chapter in a no doubt wonderful career has ended.