Some people just aren’t happy without a good moan, like those Americans in the 1980s who couldn’t go an afternoon without burning heavy metal records and ridding the world of Satan and his influence over the nation’s youth.
Even today, people want to be offended just so they have something to yell about. Jack Wilshere isn’t the brightest 21-year-old you’ll ever meet, but the reaction to his opinion, which is what he was asked, has been laughable and pathetic. Isn’t everyone bored yet? No, let’s bring in some bloke who plays cricket.
But that’s not the point. At least it shouldn’t be.
I read recently on Twitter – the modern age’s equivalent to pub talk or gossip – that Wilshere was the best young player in the game today. It probably had something to do with club allegiance, and that’s fair. However, it probably had more to do with the lack of awareness and emphasis on those abroad.
Adan Januzaj has been treated as a great gift to the modern English game, a breath of fresh air even, with many talking up the marriage of his intelligence with his ability. Well ok, we hype things to the hilt here in England, and as special as Januzaj may be in the future, the concept of intelligence above all isn’t lost on those in Europe as it is in England.
Wilshere spoke of bravery, and in England, bravery is associated with crunching tackles, sleeves rolled up and some degree of pleasure taken from the harshness of a muddied English pitch. In Spain, for example, bravery is playing the ball out from the back, passing it around your own penalty area and patiently waiting for your opportunity in the opposition half. In England, possession around your own penalty area amounts to little else than a Jamie Carragher-style, no nonsense clearance into row Z.
It’s also a quite interesting that Wilshere is the embodiment of everything that English football tries to steer clear of: small and technically gifted. My first reaction to Wilshere’s statement about English bravery was that it was all show, something for the cameras, figuratively, and largely just for the appeasement of the masses. But Wilshere, trained at Arsenal from the age of nine, has been brought up better than that. He’s England’s great hope because he has a manager who isn’t shackled down by a set of ideals that have, for the most part, become irrelevant everywhere else.
Paul Scholes is one of the best midfielders England has ever had, arguably the best, but he’s small, he’s the anti-Yaya Toure, who is greatly admired here. In England, everyone wants or even needs a Toure manning their midfield; in Spain, Barcelona moved Toure along in favour of a far more elegant but less imposing Sergio Busquets.
You don’t need tough tackling and muddied shorts if you’re disciplined, intelligent and tactically aware. Xabi Alonso has been quoted as saying tackling should be the last resort; in the Premier League, a gut-busting sprint and tackle is met with roars of approval.
Wilshere’s ability for public speaking shouldn’t really come into question here: how many professional athletes are well short of being competent or even confident speakers – and that’s not to imply that Wilshere is terrible, but rather that it’s not the arena from which he should be judged.
England’s woes at international level, as well as the jokes, sometimes laced with scorn following each lofty target, will continue as long as the idea of “bravery” is defined by playing with your heart instead of your head. Tough tackling may be intrinsically English, but it doesn’t have to be the primary part of England’s game forever.
Should we be concerned by England’s definition of bravery in football?
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