“He will be England captain one day”. These were the words of the then England manager, Fabio Capello, when asked about Jack Wilshere. Lamenting over his two performances against Barcelona in the Champions League, Capello paid tribute to the 19 year-old who had played “with confidence and without fear” against one of football’s greatest ever sides. According to Capello it was his communication with the other players, as well as his ability on the ball, that set him apart from other young English players, likening his potential to that of Paolo Maldini and Raul.
That interview was held in March 2011. Five and a half years ago. Half a decade on and THAT Barcelona game at the Emirates is still held up as a symbol of Wilshere’s ability. The game itself took place a month prior to Capello’s interview. This small excerpt goes some way to summarising Wilshere’s career thus far: all the potential, moments of brilliance, but ultimately flawed by injuries. In Capello’s mind, and the player’s too, he would have firmly believed that by now Wilshere would have played a key role for England at three major tournaments. Quite possibly Arsenal captain, and well on his way to achieving that same feat with England. A born leader.
The reality is markedly different, however. Injuries plaguing him consistently throughout his career have meant that his impact (and importance) for club and country has slowly dwindled. Capello’s successor, an avid Wilshere supporter in the form of Roy Hodgson, desperately wanted him at the heart of his midfield. He even insisted on taking a semi-fit Wilshere to Euro 2016 in place of recent Premier League winner Danny Drinkwater, enraging large sections of England supporters. In context, the day before Wilshere dominated a Barcelona midfield containing Xavi and Iniesta, Drinkwater had been subbed off at half-time for Watford with his side behind 2-0 to Preston North End.
At the start of the current campaign, Wilshere found himself sixth choice in centre midfield behind Cazorla, Xhaka, Ramsey, Elneny and Coquelin. So where did it all start to go wrong for England’s bright, young talent and is this Bournemouth move the right one to help resurrect his faltering career?
Following Capello’s high praise, Wilshere continued to progress and excel. He made a total of 49 appearances in all competitions for Arsenal during the 2010/11 season, missing only three league games and earning his first five international caps. What a breakthrough season for the teenager! However, the following season was to halt his development dramatically and is ultimately where his struggles with injury began…
During a pre-season game against New York Red Bulls, Wilshere suffered a stress fracture in his ankle. Wenger admitted, somewhat begrudgingly, that he would not be back in action until at least February 2012. For a player that had seized upon his opportunity during the previous season with such tenacity it was a bitter blow. Despite his manager remaining positive about his recovery in interviews, the comeback date was continuously postponed. As it transpired, Jack would not play a single minute during the 2011/12 season, missing the Olympics and Euro 2012 in the process.
Frustratingly, his injury hell did not end there. It was not until October 2012, 17 months after the initial injury, that he made his return for Arsenal, producing a Man of the Match performance against QPR. He remained injury-free for the rest of the campaign, putting in a string of fine performances at the turn of the year and even being handed the Arsenal armband in place of Thomas Vermaelen for the first time. The injury crisis he had been through prior to the campaign was well and truly behind him.
The following season continued in a similar vein. Wilshere was a firm fixture in Arsenal’s starting XI during the 2013/14 season. Initially deployed out wide due to an injury crisis, Wilshere maintained his place in the side for several months thereafter – scoring the goal of the season against Norwich City in the process.
This was a goal that could only have been scored by a man that lives and breathes Arsenal. A beautiful, flowing team goal that perfectly epitomised the principles that Wenger indoctrinates into his players from their first day at the club.
Wilshere picked the ball up from deep, carried it up to 20 yards short of the halfway line and then shifted it out wide. After continuing his run, he received the ball once again, 30 yards out, and gave it back to Cazorla. Cazorla to Giroud on the edge of the box, who proceeded to play the deftest of give-and-go’s with an on-running Wilshere, with flicks on show from both players. Wilshere, showing extreme composure after collecting the ball from Giroud once more, then passed the ball into the bottom left-hand corner from 10 yards out, completely bereft of pressure from the opposition’s defence, who were not within touching distance. The pace and subtly of the move had taken Arsenal far beyond enemy lines. Simply sublime. Arsenal at their exuberant best.
Yet another moment of brilliance that helped to demonstrate his immense potential. Still only 21 and with a run of games under his belt, Jack was enjoying his football and playing with a smile on his face, playing without fear once again.
However, the latter part of his season was again cut short by injury – this time whilst playing for England. He would be out for the best part of two months, returning just in time to help Arsenal win the F.A. Cup. Their first major honour since 2005.
Unfortunately, and yet somewhat inevitably, his injury troubles did not stop there either. Although he enjoyed a promising start to the 14/15 season, he was ruled out of action for over six months after damaging his ankle ligaments against Manchester United in October. On the final day of the season, just a couple of weeks after his recovery, Wilshere rifled a left-foot volley into the top corner against West Bromwich Albion. This goal ensured that Arsenal would have Champions League football the following year and was again voted goal of the season, making him the first player in the Premier League era to have won the award in consecutive years. And, in what began to feel like a carbon copy of the season before, Wilshere came on as a substitute in the F.A. Cup final as Arsenal enjoyed back-to-back success.
Inconceivably, Wilshere’s injury troubles continued to worsen during the next campaign too. After breaking his fibula in August, it was believed that he would be able to return before the end of the year. This was not to be the case. His recovery slowed and he did not make his comeback until the end of April. This was still enough to convince Hodgson, however, that he should take him to the Euros. Roy believed England did not have another player like him and he needed to be included, but this was ill-judged. His injury torment over the last two seasons had meant that he had made just nineteen league appearances since August 2014, with just ten of those being starts.
Cut to deadline day and Arsene Wenger had decided that Wilshere’s best option was to go out on loan. He had bought in Granit Xhaka to resolve Arsenal’s long-standing need for a defensive midfielder. And with Cazorla back fully fit, Ramsey vying for a starting berth and still plenty of competition available in the shape of Elneny and Coquelin, his game time would be slim at best – not ideal for a player striving to get his career back on track.
The respective offers on the table, so we are told, were from: Crystal Palace, Watford, Bournemouth, Roma, Juventus, Sporting Lisbon, Benfica and several others. Wilshere opted for Bournemouth – much to the dismay of several British pundits.
“I’m surprised nobody in the top four wanted him”, “Bournemouth were in League One when he played against Barcelona” and “Why didn’t he go to Roma instead?” were just a few of the half-baked conclusions that an eclectic mix of ex-pros could muster up at such short notice.
Personally, I could not see the logic behind such arguments. Is it not drilled into us that the best teams get their business done early? Is it not common sense that Wenger would not want to loan a very talented player to a direct rival? And I know having an in-depth knowledge of any league other than our own is a taboo and a rarity in Britain, but surely even we must realise that Wilshere’s game time would have been severely limited had he gone to either Roma or Juventus?
Eddie Howe, on the other hand, is, the most talented, young English coach around. His progress with Bournemouth has been nothing short of incredible and his sides play attractive, passing football. The type of football that appeals to Wenger, and no doubt to Wilshere too. It can only work to his and Bournemouth’s advantage if he is going to a club where he can seemingly fit in so effortlessly.
Recently there has been a lot said about more British players needing to go abroad, especially with Joe Hart’s move to Torino happening on the same day as Wilshere’s, as well as Oliver Burke’s to Leipzig a few days beforehand. And I have to agree that I do think that it would be beneficial if more British players sought to ply their trades abroad, both in terms of their own development and their respective national team’s.
However, that decision should be a well-thought out one and not one which is sprung upon a player at the last minute, as it was for Wilshere. It is often forgotten that when footballers move they have to relocate, uproot their families and get used to a new environment. Add in a new culture and language to that mix and I can see why he chose to stay in England, and, more importantly, chose Bournemouth.
The school of thought that irked me more than any other, regarding this deal, was the way that the move was viewed with a sense of the inherent snobbery that exists within football: the logic that if you sit on the bench for one of the country’s top teams, you are automatically seen as a better player than the talisman of a mid-table side. It is something that England fans, in particular, have bemoaned for years and have attempted to rally against on several occasions. Yet, if a player, whose team are in a relegation battle, is called up to the squad it is declared that “England as a footballing nation are going backwards” once more. Surely the most important aspect is the level of performance on display and not the calibre of his team-mates?
It is something that I think young players at top clubs should consider more often. Especially at a club like Arsenal, with their well-documented issues with injuries and wealth of attacking midfielders. It is a battle to play more than five consecutive games. Maybe if this move works out I will be writing these same things about Oxlade-Chamberlain in a year’s time… At least for now, Wenger and Wilshere seem to share my view and deem Bournemouth to be the best option for the player’s development.
At Palace it would have done his confidence no favours enduring the famous Alan Pardew slides in form, whether he was playing every week or not. And Watford are still an unknown quantity thus far under Walter Mazzarri.
Eddie Howe and Bournemouth offer Jack the chance to play every week, in the role that suits him, and to play the way he knows best. Additionally, it provides an opportunity to see if Wilshere can stay fit now that he is away from the dreaded Arsenal physio room.
One thing is for sure, Jack will get the run of games that he craves and a chance to show everybody what he can do again – no longer relying on what feel like sepia-toned memories to justify his inclusion in the side. Eddie Howe should be the man that helps him get back to playing with a smile on his face and without fear again. And that will suit Wenger and Big Sam’s England just fine.
‘Capello earmarks Arsenal midfield starlet Wilshere as future England captain’, Daily Mail Online, 15th March 2011,