Jack Wilshere, a 20-year-old midfielder with a shade over 50 Premier League appearances to his name, returned to league action over the weekend for Arsenal. The Gunners are having a relatively solid start to the season, enjoying better defensive reliability (occasional lapses notwithstanding) and benefiting from the signing of Santi Cazorla, one of the league’s hottest properties in the early weeks of the campaign.
The return of most players in Wilshere’s situation would have been noted rather than anticipated, and in truth many of them might have been collectively forgotten in the fast-paced, short-termist world of the Premier League soap opera. Not Wilshere. Despite his age, his lengthy and complicated recovery from injury has been observed with granular attention, and his return to Arsene Wenger’s side welcomed with a fanfare.
For Wilshere is not just a young midfielder finding his way back into his stride after a minor injury, he is England’s great hope re-emerging after the longest year of his career. Finally, at long last, Wilshere is back. Project Rejuvenation can begin, so they say, and England’s fresh face is here to revolutionise our fading international presence.
At least, that’s the theory. The reality, of course, is that the pressure being piled on the Arsenal youngster is – while earned fair and square by a cracking prospect – entirely unfair, and more than a tad ridiculous.
The logic is sound enough. Wilshere, after all, showed before his injury all the signs of being the type of player England needs to produce, and the kind of midfielder we’re all so desperately hoping will eventually result from being coached by St George’s Park graduates.
I’ve only seen Wilshere in the flesh a few times, but he always looks the part. He’s got vision, awareness, good passing, genuine football smarts and a little bit of bite. What more could we want? If Wilshere can stay injury free and maintain his trajectory, he could easily be the best English midfielder of his generation. That is the potential he has – when a player looks as assured at 18 as Wilshere did, it’s usually a good reflection of what’s to come.
But it’s not right to expect him to be the turning point for England, because he won’t. How could he be? The process of actively trying to develop the next Wilshere, or England’s Andres Iniesta as the media would have it, is only just beginning at Burton. Wilshere can’t rescue England on his own, and the chances are he’ll be a senior player by the time any fundamental change occurs for England, if not long retired.
Nevertheless, England will be required by the most vocal critics and the majority of the public to be competitive in the meantime, and Wilshere could well be the key to that as Wayne Rooney passes the torch. For the time being, it’s most important that Wilshere is allowed to regain his feet and work his way back into the swing of things.
Wenger is already making noises about England’s friendly in Sweden next month, suggesting that Wilshere would be best served by skipping the game to focus on the final stage of his rehabilitation: building up his match fitness.
The Arsenal manager is clearly protecting the club’s interests as well as the player’s, but his reasoning is fair. The Sweden game is hardly a fixture of vital importance for England and Wilshere should remain in the care of his club so soon after a lay-off of well over a year. I’m sure the player himself is keen to get back into an England shirt for his sixth cap, and the fans certainly want him back – undoubtedly too much – but it’s important to keep a sense of perspective. It’s not the right time.
In a Q&A with SoccerBible, though, it’s clear that Wilshere isn’t going to want to wait long before breaking back into the England side, and working with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain for club and country.
Is Wilshere England’s saviour? Of course he’s not. But he’s a superb prospect and one from whom it’s important that England get the very best. If he’s as good as we think he is, England will be far better for his input.
(Photo credit: Ronnie Macdonald via Flickr)