Smoking is medically proven to stunt your growth – something Jack Wilshere should bear in mind, after a picture of him holding a shisha pipe was posted on Instagram last week.
There’s not a lot the Arsenal starlet can do about his slender 5 foot 8 frame at 23 years of age, barring limb transplant surgery with Peter Crouch. His development as a footballer however, has continually stifled since first exploding onto the Premier League scene as a teenager – we’re still waiting for him to mature into the world-class central midfielder he’s often heralded to become – so maybe it’s time to invest in some nicorette.
Wilshere’s professionalism, attitude to training or rehabilitation from injury has never come into question, but his recent smoking incident, now the third photograph to reach the public of him submitting to the unhealthy habit, is enough to add to the myth of a player not taking things too seriously – hanging out in trendy nightclubs to watch the Superbowl, Shisha pipes and gorgeous blondes en masse, rather than sitting at home with his leg up, waiting for his recently-operated-upon ankle to heal.
Perhaps most detrimental of all, it highlights the limits his career has reached thus far, in comparison to what was expected of him upon his first full campaign in the Arsenal first team aged just 19. Indeed, Wilshere was billed as a talent worthy of Barcelona’s legendary midfield, the future of the England national team and his generation’s answer to Paul Gascoigne.
We’re still waiting for any of those prophecies to prove remotely accurate, and instead of glowing endorsements of the midfielder in Premier League match reports, the only column inches he’s filled recently revolve around boozy nights out and his lust for Mayfairs.
Of course, his injury problems cannot be overlooked; the Three Lions star is now enduring his ninth long-term sideline bout in the space of just six seasons. Whether that’s a consequence of misfortune, Arsenal’s ever-scrutinised training methods or simply his limited physicality isn’t a debate to be had right now – but even the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi would struggle to improve their games during such disruptive periods of prolonged absence.
That being said, the disparity of talent between Wilshere and Arsenal’s other midfielders is becoming increasingly noticeable. Compared to the indisputable world-class qualities of Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil, or the impact Aaron Ramsey and Santi Cazorla have had over the last 18 months, the England midfielder is lagging some way behind.
He’s enjoyed stellar displays for both club and country and moments of divine aesthetic quality, such as his supporting role in that unforgettable goal against Norwich last season, yet they pepper a career of ordinary performances that barely exceed the norm, despite the hype continually surrounding the midfielder.
During his seven Premier League outings this term for example, he’s averaged less than one created chance per match, 0.8; an inexcusable return for a player who represented Arsenal’s youth squad predominantly as a No.10. Averages of 0.8 tackles and 0.3 interceptions per match are equally troubling, as is a pass completion rate of just 83%.
Those trademark central runs at opposition defences remain Wilshere’s defining gift as a footballer, commanding great technical talent and even greater self confidence, but the rest of his game hasn’t spanned particularly further; the England international’s showing no holistic improvement in output, defensive discipline or understanding of his particular role – although that seems to change far too frequently for him to ever successfully comprehend.
A few years ago, this wasn’t a big deal – Wilshere had his whole career ahead of him to iron out the creases and find his consistency. But now 23, crocked at the ankle and croaking on fags, time to realise his fullest potential is quickly escaping him, like tobacco smoke drifting and disappearing into the night sky.
In essence, his smoking habits aren’t the issue – although Arsene Wenger has warned Wilshere to improve his lifestyle. He won’t be the first or the last footballer to enjoy smoking; Wilshere’s mistake, once again, was getting caught doing it.
Rather, it’s the manner in which these stories are beginning to say more about his career than the actual football, highlighting how, by in large, the England midfielder is still at the same level he was five or six years ago. He might be lighting up Mayfairs and shisha bongs, but Wilshere hasn’t lit up the Emirates pitch since he was a teenager.