HAVING been at Southampton for Theo Walcott’s rise from teenage prodigy to superstar, memories came flooding back upon hearing of his return to the club.
But there is one that sticks out — and it came on just his second appearance for the club as a 16-year-old away at Millwall in October 2005.
Despite being so young and new to the Championship, Theo was already a marked man because of his unbelievable pace.
He got absolutely battered with challenges. In one challenge at The Den, he got absolutely done.
Theo had such maturity. When he started training with the senior squad you would not think he was 16.
There was no naivety about him and he looked like he belonged.
But the first time I realised just how young he was came when I checked to see if he was okay after being hacked down at Millwall. He was in tears and really emotional.
He was a real talent but he was still a kid. He arrived in the Championship which was so aggressive.
He got used to it though. In that Millwall game he scored the opener and we went on to win 2-0.
His start was unbelievable, scoring three goals in his first three games.
There was interest in Theo before he even made his first-team debut.
You could just tell he was going to make it big sooner rather than later.
He was part of a golden generation from the Saints youth team that included Gareth Bale, Adam Lallana, Nathan Dyer, Dexter Blackstock, David McGoldrick and Leon Best.
And when he came to train with the senior squad for the first time, he took us to the cleaners.
Theo ran rings around us and made us look foolish.
Despite having the rare combination of intelligence, pace and finishing at that age, his mentality was second to none.
I remember his dad would come to watch some of the training sessions. He was a lovely guy, so we knew Theo had his head screwed on and had been brought up the right way.
At the time we also had some good seniors who looked after him, like myself, Dennis Wise and Rory Delap.
The manager, Harry Redknapp, trusted us to keep an eye on him.
Then his move to Arsenal came along, which was no real surprise. I think Arsene Wenger looked at Theo and saw his development would be similar to Thierry Henry’s.
Henry was initially a winger but learnt to drift inside and eventually made himself into one of the greatest centre-forwards in the world. Injuries perhaps hampered Theo in his progress to follow in those footsteps.
The first time I played against Theo was for Stoke in 2008, and after a collision between him and his old team-mates, myself and Delap, he ended up dislocating his shoulder.
But for him to have moved to Arsenal at the age he did, to then go on and score 108 goals in 397 games, people would bite your hand off for just a quarter of that career.
And now he has gone back to where it all started. It may be something he needs, personally, to give him that impetus again of starting football matches and being the main man.
I don’t think for one second it is a PR stunt. The way Southampton play under Ralph Hasenhuttl with a 4-2-2-2 and the dynamism they want, it could suit Theo very well.
There will be some doubters questioning why he returned, and there will be pressure on him to perform.
But at 31, he still has the miles on the clock to do his old club justice.