Momentum is gathering behind calls for Arsenal to name Jack Wilshere as their captain in time for the start of next season, but would that simply be placing too much pressure on such a young and relatively inexperienced member of the first-team squad? Handing him the responsibility simply due to a lack of viable alternatives speaks volumes for the lack of leadership within the club as much as it does his readiness to assume the role and that’s the main issue to address here.
Wilshere recently pulled out of the England squad for their upcoming games against San Marino and Montenegro with yet another ankle injury, exposing the flawed logic in making him the team’s go-to leader in the future. Considering he is just 21-years-old, he possesses a maturity that defies his tender age, but he has still made just 90 appearances for the club across all competitions and just 26 in the last two years.
Even factoring in that he may be similar in style to England and Liverpool skipper Steven Gerrard, in that he leads by example rather than any vocal ability to rouse his troops like John Terry for instance, his absenteeism will not have gone unnoticed. When it comes to picking captains, in what many consider an increasingly obsolete and arbitrary role largely made for ceremonial duties than anything it brings to performance, it’s fair to say Arsene Wenger has something of a patchy record.
After inheriting Tony Adams, Wenger backed the club stalwart at a difficult time in his personal life and he responded brilliantly, with an old-school type of leadership, but since then, every decision has become more and more questionable. Wenger seems to have fallen into the trap of simply naming his best player as captain by and large in recent years, in an attempt to engender some sort of loyalty out of them when bigger clubs come calling, but Patrick Vieira left two years after being made skipper, Thierry Henry only took two years also while Cesc Fabregas left in the summer of 2011 three years after being handed the role, with Robin van Persie bringing up the rear so to speak with just a solitary campaign to his name.
Then you have the odd selections, such as handing it to William Gallas, a divisive, deeply childish and widely disliked by some, who lasted just 17 months as skipper from July 2007-November 2008, but spectacularly went off the wagon by choosing to publicly criticise many prominent members of the squad in the media, causing a dressing room split and by the time he left the club, him and Samir Nasri weren’t even on speaking terms.
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Moving on to the latest bizarre choice and Thomas Vermaelen looks set to have the position taken away from him simply because it was the only reason assuring him of his place in the side after a truly terrible season in terms of his own personal form. Wenger stated after he left him out of the starting eleven for the team’s game against Bayern Munich in the Champions League: “Who is a captain and a leader shouldn’t guarantee you a place in any team.
“In England it’s true … the captaincy is of massive importance.”But for purely sporting reasons, or tactical reasons in the game, when you don’t think it is the right selection, do you put the player in just as he is captain? That is disrespectful to the guy who doesn’t play. For sporting reasons, it is not completely justifiable.” His time is nigh.
So the spotlight has inevitably fallen to Wilshere, perhaps one of the only members of the first-team squad that has the requisite mental toughness for the role. Fabregas was given the role at the same age and Wilshere wore the armband for the first time in a game against West Ham in January of this year, with Vermaelen’s position set to come under the scope of an internal review at the end of the campaign.
Sure, naming Wilshere as captain would buy Wenger a degree of security from an increasingly bitter Arsenal faithful who have become more and more frustrated by the Frenchman in recent seasons, but that can’t and shouldn’t be the underlying principle behind the move. However, as the England cricket team has shown in the past with Kevin Pietersen, Andrew Flintoff and Ian Botham, the finest individual doesn’t always make the greatest captain.
There’s a certain sense of inevitability about it all; Wilshere will one day be Arsenal and England captain, that much is clear just as it was with Gerrard and Terry over a decade ago. He’s made of the right stuff but there’s a very real worry that they are building him up before he is truly ready to take over the mantle.
Cast your eyes around the Arsenal changing room, and you will see Per Mertesacker (28 years old and with 86 Germany caps), Lukas Podolski (27-years-old and with 107 Germany caps), Tomas Rosicky (32 years old and with 89 Czech Republic caps) and Santi Cazorla (28-years-old and with 51 Spain caps). Is the biggest problem not that despite all of this experience at the top level, none of them are even considered candidates for the role? It speaks volumes for the sort of mentally fragile squad that Wenger has assembled. Would Mikel Arteta not be a safer bet for the time being with Wilshere stepping up into the vice-captaincy first? A gradual transition rather than a populist coronation is what’s needed most here.
Promoting Wilshere as captain before his time would seem a deeply rash move and partly done for selfish reasons to buy himself some credit back with a disillusioned following. Making some a designated leader because there’s nobody else that fits the criteria is part of a wider problem. It’s a flaw with the club’s transfer policy that’s been widely pointed out for some time now and placing so much pressure on a 21-year-old still finding his feet and battling with his fitness is just the latest consequence of Wenger making mistake after mistake back down the line.
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