LONDON COLNEY, England -- Arsenal signed 16-year-old forward Theo Walcott from Southampton on Friday for five million pounds ($8.8 million), possibly rising to 12 million.
Walcott, rated the finest English prospect since Wayne Rooney, has joined on a junior "scholar" contract and will enter into a professional contract on his 17th birthday on March 16.
The full 12 million pounds fee is dependent on the number of appearances he makes for Arsenal and, if he makes it, England. He will join Arsenal immediately and wear the number 32 shirt.
"Theo Walcott is a very young player but has already shown in his performances for Southampton that he is a talented player with huge potential," Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger told reporters at the club's training ground.
"I also like the fact that he is a versatile player who is incredibly dedicated, shows great determination to succeed and is blessed with electric pace.
"I see him (playing) up front everywhere, left, right and centre. I believe he has the same ingredients at the same age as Wayne Rooney to be a big prospect for England."
Wenger has compared Walcott with Arsenal captain Thierry Henry, another player as happy on the wing as in the centre of the attack.
Asked why Walcott opted for Arsenal when second division Southampton said other clubs had offered more money, the Frenchman said: "Maybe he feels he can play here, will get a chance here.
"He is a young English player and I think it is important to have a good mixture."
Walcott is an England youth international and became the youngest player to represent Southampton's first team when he came on as a substitute aged 16 years and 143 days. He played for their reserves at 15.
He has scored five times in 13 appearances this season, and his pace and comfort on the ball attracted huge interest from England's top clubs.
Walcott said in a statement: "I'm so pleased to be joining Arsenal, a club I have admired for a long time.
"Coming to Arsenal will give me the opportunity to work with world class players every day and play football at the highest possible level." Wenger said his new signing would not be involved in Saturday's match against Everton.
Southampton chairman Rupert Lowe said the club were bitterly disappointed to lose Walcott and said the FA should act to prevent similar future transfers.
"The purpose of developing the best academy in the country is not to sell scholars to larger clubs," he told Southampton's website.
"We have done everything to keep Theo at Southampton but his family and advisors are determined that he leave this club and go to Arsenal.
"Theo has shown what he is capable of in his first season of senior football and I know every Saints fan will feel let down."
Walcott is Arsenal's third signing during the January transfer window after Togo international Emmanuel Adebayor and French midfielder Abou Diaby.