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Theo Walcott is, without doubt, one of the brightest young talents in English football. His electrifying pace, dazzling skills and, above all, unparalleled potential have set training grounds buzzing.

No wonder Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger spent £12m on him. No wonder Sven-Goran Eriksson has taken him to Germany; if promise alone is our secret weapon, our opponents must be quaking.

There’s a lot to be said for potential. That might have been the thinking behind home secretary John Reid’s announcement this week of a ‘respect squad’, heroes who can root out hotbeds of antisocial behaviour.

While Mr Reid might have been watching too many repeats of The Sweeney, there’s a certain attraction to the concept: if the regular cops can’t sort out a problem, call in the professionals.

And as hit squads go, this one certainly has the wherewithal. They have CVs as long as your arm setting out their triumphs in resolving difficult situations; half of them are even MBEs. Their job will be to ‘accelerate action where police and local authorities need extra support, or where severe cases are going unchecked.’ Councils might not be in a hurry to admit they can’t cope, so councillors and MPs can summon the squad’s help too.

But given the achievements that have been trumpeted across the nation in recent years, it’s worth asking why Mr Reid feels a flying squad is called for at this juncture.

Clearly antisocial behaviour remains deeply damaging and distressing for those who suffer its effects. But it doesn’t follow that local authorities and the police are failing to address the issue.

It’s suggested many councils are neglecting to use the powers at their disposal. That’s a conclusion arrived at by comparing the numbers of asbos served and enforcement actions undertaken, but it’s not a precise measure: it can reward councils for being trigger-happy rather than effective.

Call me an old cynic, but I can’t help feeling this announcement has more to do with John Reid’s need to be seen as Whitehall’s answer to Arnold Schwarzenegger than with any demand, either from the public or from the practitioners who may have been press-ganged into the respect squad.

It remains to be seen whether the squad see any more action than Theo Walcott does in the World Cup. But perhaps just having them on the bench will be enough.

Julian Dobson, editor, New Start Online magazine

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