THEO WALCOTT knows a thing or two about being England’s great new hope.
He was 17 when taken to a World Cup finals by Sven Goran Eriksson and still six months short of his 20s when the Arsenal winger became the youngest player to net a hat-trick for the Three Lions.
Since then, injuries and loss of form have led to Walcott’s career failing to kick on as expected, a point underlined by Roy Hodgson during the build-up to Friday night’s resounding victory over Lithuania at Wembley.
Who better, therefore, to assess the impact of English football’s new poster boy, Harry Kane?
“It was fantastic,” said Walcott when asked about the Tottenham Hotspur striker. “He has worked hard.
“He is still very young. But I have seen him in training, I have seen it first hand. Some of the stuff he can do with the ball is fantastic. He sees the goal. To score like he did was fantastic.”
Kane took just 80 seconds to open his scoring account for the national team after being brought off the bench with the hosts already 3-0 ahead.
Following on from the 29 goals he has plundered for Tottenham this season, the 21-year-old’s explosive start to life with England understandably saw him garner most of the weekend headlines.
It was a similar story to that of Walcott in September, 2008, when he announced himself on the international stage with a hat-trick against Croatia in a World Cup qualifier.
Fabio Capello immediately hailed the then teenager’s worth to the Three Lions but, by the time the 2010 World Cup came round, Walcott failed to make the squad.
Since then, the former Southampton junior has been in and out of the national team set-up, and just last week Hodgson admitted that the wideman was in danger of being usurped by rivals in his position.
The England manager retains faith in Walcott but the fact he was willing to go public with such concerns underlined how concerned he is about the 26-year-old.
A cautionary tale, therefore, for Kane, who continues to be lauded for the manner of what has been a quite incredible breakthrough season for a player who not so long ago was on loan at Millwall and Leyton Orient.
Asked if he felt Kane might get carried away with all the adulation, Walcott, who was a late substitute in the 4-0 win over Lithuania, replied: “Harry has dealt with it all season.
“He has been scoring goals. The pressure has been on him and he has dealt with it very well. A very level-headed guy.
“Harry just continues to enjoy playing football. That’s all he wants to do. The best thing is not to put too much pressure on him. If he keeps performing like that he will have no problem at all.
“As for the hype, you need to make sure it doesn’t go to your head. Looking at that and the inside of Harry, he is not that sort of guy. He is very nice and down to earth.
“Just play your football, that is all you need to do. You don’t need to worry about anything else. You can see he is playing with a smile on his face every day. You see it in training. As long as he continues to do that, the best will come from him.
“He has had a lot of experience in the Premier League already. Being top-goalscorer as well, it’s only going to make him into a better player.
“If he is right up there with the best, he will believe he is the best. It can only be good for England.”
Kane’s debut goal was a back-post header from Raheem Sterling’s cross that had sufficient power to prevent Lithuania goalkeeper Giedrius Arlauskis keeping it out at his near post.
Asked if he had advice for the Tottenham striker, Walcott replied: “Just to continue enjoying playing football.
“Be positive, which he has been. Work hard in training. I have seen him do that, first hand. Good things will come and it is definitely happening now.”
Walcott, meanwhile, is desperate to get his own career back on track. He had 10 months out with the cruciate knee ligament rupture that he suffered against Spurs in January last year.
A further two months were missed once the injury had healed with a muscle problem, the upshot of which is Friday’s cameo from the bench at Wembley was only his 14th appearance of the season. “‘I can’t remember the last time I put on the shirt,” said Walcott when asked about his 13-minute spell on the field.
“It might have been Scotland (in August, 2013), when I scored. That is positive for myself, just to get back in amongst it and get a 15-minute blow-out.
“To be back at Wembley, in the England shirt was a great achievement for me.
“I have worked hard to get back where I am. I think I am still easing myself back in but I had a taste of it (on Friday) and I want to get more of that. I have been training really well, hopefully going into Tuesday’s game (in Turin against Italy) I will get more of a run out.”
Hodgson’s words about Walcott facing an important few months shone a spotlight on the Arsenal winger’s future prospects on the international stage.
Hodgson made special mention of the competition that now exists, something that Walcott insists he relishes.
“Competition is always going to be there anyway,” he said. “I have been there from 17 and I have managed to get through it. Competition is healthy.
“We want, as a nation, for all the players to be playing well. It is only going to spur you on and make you a better player. Bring it on.
“I think you need to prove yourself, no matter what.
“I had a long-term injury but I got back from that and not many people would have worked hard like I did to get back to where I am.
“To get the shirt back on after such a long injury spell, I was very pleased with that.
“I feel fine, I feel fit. I’m only going to get even sharper with games but that will come.
“I don’t want to look too far ahead of myself, I just want to go out there and do my best when I get given the opportunity and then see where it takes me.”