From the outside, the transfer of Theo Walcott to Southampton will be seen as just romance, but it is so much more than just that.
The 31-year-old has re-joined the club he left over 14-years ago, with so much changing for both parties in that time.
For the club, a relegation to the third tier of English football for the first time in 50 years, as well as back-to-back promotions up to the Premier League, two Europa League campaigns, and nine consecutive seasons as a top division side.
Walcott has returned having obtained 347 Premier League appearances, as well as 47 caps for the England senior side, and two FA Cups.
According to The Athletic, Walcott rejected offers from Crystal Palace, Burnley, and Fulham to persue a move to his boyhood club, making his intent clear to Carlo Ancelotti that he would only leave Everton to move to the South Coast.
However, the incoming of the winger will be anything but a send-off to his career, with the academy graduate ready to be a part of a competitive Southampton squad once again.
So why Theo Walcott?
If nothing else, Walcott will provide valuable cover for the first team. With the departure of Sofiane Boufal, and injury to Moussa Djenepeo (who are both more natural on the left side anyway) the winger will be an astute backup to Stuart Armstrong.
Walcott is almost guaranteed to start the upcoming game against Chelsea, with Ralph Hasenhuttl already ruling out the Scotsman for the upcoming game at Stamford Bridge. However, when the former Celtic man is deemed fit once again, a place amongst the substitutes is almost a guarantee for the 32-year-old, unless a match-winning performance against the Blues’ is shown.
According to The Athletic, it is already a known fact that he comes in the second choice. The Saints’ boss sees Walcott as a player that will come off the bench often, getting onto the pitch with 25 minutes to go and make an impact on the game.
Before the England internationals addition to the squad, the next best option coming off the right-hand side was either 21-year-old Nathan Tella or 20-year-old Will Smallbone, who have played a combined 14 games of senior football – with most of those minutes coming from the subs bench.
It is also believed that Walcott’s versatility played a part in his signature, with his ability to play both on the wing, and as a striker giving the Saints multiple options.
All of this comes at quite a cheap price as well. The Athletic also reported that Southampton will pay less than half of his wage earnt at Everton, with his finances required below that of the highest earner at the club.
Coming in for the season, there is no obligation to purchase the winger at the end of the season, with the Saints’ waiting to see if he looks like a worthy investment at the end of the season. If the answer is ‘yes’, there will be no transfer fee involved, with his contract at Toffees' coming to an end at the close of the season.
It is also believed that Walcott will add a lot to the dressing room, with his professionalism and influence ready to rub off on the younger members of the Southampton squad.
Hasenhuttl happy with Walcott
Hasenhuttl demands a lot from his players. Since The Saints' four straight losses to Leicester, Manchester City (twice), and Everton, the Austrian has implemented his infamous 4-2-2-2 tactic developed in Germany with RB Leipzig, with results since then showing an upturn if both form, and moral on the South Coast.
The players have bought into his high energy, high pressing system, much more so than the slower, more defensive approach from his predecessors.
As a result, when players join the club, they do not just have to buy into the club itself, but the mentality around it. As a result, players such as Mario Lemina, Guido Carrillo, and Sofiane Boufal, who combined cost the club around £60m have all departed, with their approach not fitting that of the Austrian.
Hasenhuttl believes that Walcott fits the mentality required of a Saints player, so much so that he will willing to break his requirement of signing to be 24 years old or younger to join the club.
“If you have the chance to get such a player who is still hungry and still wants to learn, who has quality without a doubt. He is definitely a player who makes us better,” said the 53-year-old.
“The problem will be in the beginning maybe that he must adapt to our game. We know that we play a little bit different. A little bit more ball orientated.
He concluded: “I think he's a quick learner though. We had a very intense first week together, a few good meetings and a few good sessions. He concluded: “It was good to work with him this week and very looking forward to have him here and I'm sure that we will have a lot of fun with him."
It's not 'all' romance
A 31-year-old injury-prone winger wouldn’t have been at the top of every Saints fans wish list at the start of the transfer window, but by the time it closed, it would be hard to find someone unhappy with the loan move.
Coming through the Southampton youth academy, Walcott made his debut for the senior team at the age of just 16 years and 143 days – becoming the youngest ever player to this day to pull on the red and white stripes.
Making his debut against Wolverhampton Wanderers, the winger was anything but a flash in the pan, with managers Harry Redknapp and George Burley (who replaced the former in December of that season) giving the then-teenager a further 20 appearances that season – where Walcott would score four goals, and produce one assist.
January came, and Walcott was in demand. Just a handful of months into his Southampton career and the youngster was on his way out of the club, with Arsenal the team to come calling.
According to the Guardian, an initial fee of £5m, rising to £12m in instalments was enough to prise Walcott away from Southampton, with the forward yet to establish himself in senior football.
As a result, there is a feeling around the fanbase that cannot wait to see the Englishman once again, with the brief five-month spell showing Walcott still has something to prove in a Southampton shirt.