Back in 2007, I was speaking to a friend of mine who had just finished running an under 15 boys football tournament up at Warwick University. The first thing he mentioned, even before he’d finished telling an amusing story about referee, Alan Wiley, was that there was this really special kid there. Everyone was raving about him. Player of the tournament. His name? Jack Wilshere.
You will often hear about players like Wilshere. There is always a teenage prodigy in almost every sport, but so rarely do they deliver the exceptional achievements expected of them. The young Arsenal midfielder remains capable of said achievements, his potential and probable success landing him a first start for the national team last week.
But has Wilshere earned his place in the England set up? After being an under-used member of the Arsenal squad last term, despite the hype, his promotion to first team regular has been a little puzzling. Arsene Wenger displayed an almost pathological reluctance to play the boy last season – sending him on loan to Bolton where Owen Coyle was another respected voice to wax lyrical about his talents.
Yet this season, Wilshere has been an ever present. Commentators will now say; “Wenger has left the big guns on the bench: Van Persie, Fabregas, Wilshere…”
Have I missed something? Did Arsene Wenger actually deploy Wilshere in disguise during the Gunners’ calamitous final weeks of last season? Has he been supremely successful?
Before his meteoric rise to Premier League and international stardom, the Arsenal midfielder had something of a frustrating time, when a first team breakthrough seemed a formality, yet it was not forthcoming.
Consecutive years of pre-season ‘Emirates Cup’ glory for Wilshere resulted in mass acclaim but little else in terms of selections. Fabio Capello, possibly sensing a chance to talk about something other than his goalkeeping problem, jumped on Wilshere as a potential World Cup prospect in the summer of 2009. Come the start of the season, however, Wenger refused to play him.
It is hard not to have a little sympathy for the object of so much national scrutiny. From being a fringe squad player, to a national icon in the blink of an eye, is something that very few footballers truly experience. It is also a very un-Wenger method of team selection. Theo Walcott has been at Arsenal for five years, yet is still being eased into first team action – why the sudden change of heart from the Frenchman?
Wilshere’s performances this season have looked secure. It is a compliment to say he looks utterly comfortable and at ease with the highest levels of domestic football, yet he is yet to achieve anything tangible. It is almost as if the words ‘Wilshere’ and ‘Potential’ are intrinsically linked.
If you think I’m being a little harsh, answer me this question. Had England won the World Cup, or even made the semi-finals, would the Arsenal youngster be mentioned in the same breath as the national squad?
Fabio Capello includes the youngster in his plans because it’s what the media want to hear after such a disappointing World Cup. He talks of Wilshere playing a ‘Makelele’ type role, almost as if the Italian has never been to the Emirates to watch the diminutive midfielder play. But has the Italian even seen enough of the player to understand what he is capable of yet?
At Wilshere’s age, other players of similar hype have set the world alight. We saw on Wednesday night that promise and encouraging signs are one thing, but that it is possible to expect more from a 19 year old footballer. Christian Eriksen’s display in the Danish midfield was a little sobering for those believing too much is being expected of Wilshere too soon.
As a nation, I believe we are too hard on the national team and the potential for future success. As of now, Wilshere is by no means needed in international football. His performances at domestic level have not yet warranted inclusion – there are other players without the same level of hysterical build up more worthy of selection. Wilshere’s time will come. Potentially.
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