London: Theo Walcott admits the pain of being axed from England`s World Cup squad made him realise he had to toughen up to fulfill his ambitions.
Walcott has always been regarded as one of the nice guys in a sport rife with rampant egos, but the Arsenal winger doesn`t take that as a complement any more.
The 22-year-old was left heartbroken last year when England coach Fabio Capello called him to break the news that he wouldn`t be going to the World Cup in South Africa.
Walcott was so sure he was going that he had already packed his bags, but he refused to buckle despite the frustration of such a public snub.
Showing depths of resolve that his critics often claim he lacks, Walcott knuckled down and regained his place in Capello`s team last season.
"The World Cup was a massive disappointment for me. I had to lift my head. I was so down," Walcott said.
"It was like running into a brick wall but I bounced back from that and showed what I could do."
Just as significantly, he has started to speak his mind on and off the pitch.
He refused to sugarcoat his views on Capello`s hardline regime when writing about England in his recent book, even though his revelations could easily have cost him his place in the team.
While Walcott will never be confused with a notorious malcontent like Craig Bellamy, he is now ready to make his feelings known if he believes the situation demands it.
He engaged in a brief angry exchange with Arsenal team-mate Carl Jenkinson over positioning during the Gunners` 8-2 defeat at Manchester United and has also called on Capello and his club boss Arsene Wenger to start playing him up front rather than on the wing.
"Everyone is entitled to their opinion and to tell people what they want," Walcott.
"I want to show people I do care and prove a lot of people wrong. There is a lot more to come and I want to reach the top of my game.
"I wasn`t nervous at all when I met the manager (Capello) after the book came out. He was just talking to Arsene.
"I went up to him, said hello and he said he preferred me as a footballer than a writer and we both laughed.
"It (the book) has already happened and there is no point dwelling on it. You just have to be professional and play well.
"I`m doing that and hopefully the manager can see that. I`ve always had respect for the managers I`ve been involved with."
Walcott is likely to start Tuesday`s Euro 2012 qualifier against Wales on the right flank at Wembley.
But he has been given more license to drift towards the forward positions and believes the next step in his career progression should see him play up front regularly.
"My goal-scoring has definitely improved. Hopefully I will get a chance to play up front. That is where I want to be in the future," Walcott said.
"In the last two years I have been more vocal about it. I was bought as a striker. I`m not a winger at all but people judge me on crosses and things like that.
"I am just putting it out there to give the manager something to think about and hopefully it will come."
Walcott`s new-found steeliness also helped him deal with the fall-out from that humiliating result against United.
"It was one of the worst games I`ve been involved in. It was completely dead in the dressing room," Walcott said.
"It is so hard to recover from that sort of result. It could hurt a lot of players, it really could.
"A lot of us just dropped our heads after the fifth goal went in. You can`t do anything about it. There is no point sulking. You are at Arsenal. It is a big club and you need to be able to react to those moments”.