Theo Walcott says he can advance his game working with renowned man-manager Carlo Ancelotti – and profit from the Italian’s tweak to Everton’s formation.
Walcott, speaking to Everton’s matchday programme for Saturday’s visit of Crystal Palace, also revealed the gentle verbal dig from Ancelotti which inspired his match-winning strike at Watford last week.
This weekend’s clash with Palace, the reverse of Everton’s opening day fixture, which finished scoreless, represents the Football Association’s official Heads Up fixture.
And Walcott talked at length and with great insight on the issue of mental health, with the season-long Heads Up campaign designed to broaden conversation around the subject.
Walcott has started on the right flank in Everton’s past four matches, contributing to his side’s resurgence under Ancelotti.
An Arsenal player for 12 years before coming to Goodison Park in January 2018, he is able to draw parallels between his new boss and former Gunners manager Arsene Wenger.
“Both of them consistently say things which make you think, ‘That was good, I will take that on board’,” said Walcott.
“Yes [I can improve working with Ancelotti]. There is a slight change in how we’re playing, with wingers coming inside, so it is like being up front at times.
“We are all learning what Carlo wants from us and it is coming together.
“Particularly against Newcastle [Everton’s most recent home match], the result [2-2] didn’t reflect how well things worked for most of that game.
“You can be relaxed around Carlo and talk to him like you would anyone else.
“We saw the other side of him at West Ham [where Ancelotti admitted delivering a half-time dressing down to his players last month].
“He has that in him – but he is a very calming influence in the dressing room.
“He has quickly set the tone.
“Arsene was similar, you could talk to him about anything – and you’d always want to listen to him.”
Everton overturned a two-goal deficit to win at Watford, Walcott guiding home the decisive strike for his first goal of the campaign.
“Before the game, Carlo said to me, ‘Theo, you are allowed to score goals’,” said Walcott.
“It made me laugh and relaxed me.
“I told him I was waiting for his permission to score.”
The FA’s Heads Up campaign, fronted by the Duke of Cambridge, is a joint initiative with the Heads Together movement.
Everton’s encounter with Palace is the first of the Premier League’s designated Heads Up matches, which will span the next two weekends.
The Football League, National League and top three tiers of the women’s game are also dedicating fixtures to Heads Up, whose objective is ‘to kick off the biggest ever conversation around mental health through football’.
Walcott has played professionally since his debut for Southampton as a 16-year-old in August 2005 and insists his sport’s prevailing attitude towards mental health has altered substantially in that period.
“In the past a player would not have gone to a manager to say they were struggling at home or had family issues,” he said.
“You wouldn’t play at the weekend.
“So players would shut down because the issue was all they’d be thinking about.
“Leading up to a game, you’d be thinking, ‘I have all this going on, I need to get it off my chest, talk about it’.
“It is so important to talk.
“Men can struggle to open up and express their emotions.
“Awareness of mental health in football – and across other sports – is growing and that will continue.
“I’ve had issues in the past I’ve kept in, you bottle them but then it blows up.
“It is all that tension and pressure you’ve felt because you’ve not spoken.
“I’ve had things affect me in games.
“If you have a lot on your mind, it will affect you in any job.
“Now I talk about things. And there is definitely a sense of people in football being more comfortable around mental health.”
READ THE FULL VERSION OF THEO WALCOTT'S IN-DEPTH INTERVIEW IN EVERTON'S MATCHDAY PROGRAMME FOR SATURDAY'S CLASH WITH CRYSTAL PALACE
The latest edition also includes an extended, exclusive interview with former Everton striker Marcus Bent, Carlo Ancelotti's insightful programme notes and a one-to-one with Djibril Sidibe, the French World Cup winner on loan at Goodison Park from Monaco.
The Everton matchday programme, priced at £3.50, will be on sale around Goodison Park and at various city centre outlets.
It will also be available from the Everton One and Everton Two megastores. Click here to order online.