Pep Guardiola once famously said that Jack Wilshere was ‘lucky’ because there are many players ‘like him’ in the Barcelona ‘B’ team. This has rather been taken out of context; Guardiola also said he was ‘excellent’ and a ‘top player’ so he was not putting Wilshere down as much as people may have thought.
However Guardiola is still mistaken, while his summation of Wilshere is correct, there are very few players like him. And if there are players like him, they certainly aren’t in the Barcelona ‘B’ team; they are lifting Champions League trophies or immortalised in statue form.
Just how good is this guy, and what does he represent for the English national team? I will now try and explain.
Guardiola’s comments came before Barcelona defeated Arsenal 3-1 at the Camp Nou in March 2011. In the eyes of the Daily Mail, Wilshere ‘stood up to the challenge’ and was only out-performed by Messi, Xavi and Iniesta. Not bad for a 19-year old who was supposedly similar to plenty of others in the opposing team’s academy. What was remarkable about this performance was that it was in a team that was a man down and was ultimately outplayed. Most youngsters give incredible performances when their team is also playing well, Rooney aged 18 against Fenerbahce and Oxlade-Chamberlain aged 18 against AC Milan spring to mind. For me, the sign of real talent is if it shines when others around them falter.
His injury must also not be forgotten, being out for over a year and coming back as if you never left is incredible. You only need to look at the unfortunate demise of Michael Johnson to see how multiple long-term injuries can affect a young player. Just making it back takes incredible mental strength; Wilshere has shown, in his comeback, that he has it in abundance.
Attention has recently fallen upon Wilshere after his man-of-the-match performance against Brazil at Wembley. Never failing to be the first on the bandwagon, the media have started to draw comparisons with Gascoigne. Hopefully the comparisons stop with his ability on the pitch. I would, however, like to draw different comparisons; moving away from magicians like Gascoigne and introducing leaders and battlers.
The voices from the television and the radio and the words in the newspapers point to Wilshere’s upper body strength and his ability to get away from players. What stood out for me was watching 10-man Arsenal against Man City at home, where a player was shouting at his team mates and directing them where to go in an effort to release the pressure they were under. Who was that player? Was it the captain, Vermaelen, or the experienced German international Mertesacker? No, it was the youngest player on the team, Jack Wilshere. Also, who was it who got in the face of Michael Owen when he threw a pathetic punch at Mikel Arteta? You guessed it. Those are example of captain material, in my mind.
Some may not believe that giving Wilshere the captaincy would be best, that he may struggle with the responsibility, but I have never seen him back down from anything or be even slightly fazed by any situation. Tony Adams was given the Arsenal captaincy at 21, Wilshere’s age, and he now stands alongside Thierry Henry and Herbert Chapman in statue form outside the Emirates. For some players, giving them the captaincy early works wonders on them.
Comparisons have been made to Cesc Fabregas and how he was given the armband aged 23; he supposedly struggled with the added responsibility. However Fabregas doesn’t strike me as a natural born leader, I see Wilshere as the embodiment of the phrase. A more apt comparison would be Steven Gerrard, who also became captain at the age of 23. Gerrard thrived with the added responsibility and remains a great success to this day. Would Wilshere make a good captain? In my mind, definitely. I also see his leadership qualities eventually taking him to captaining his country, Joe Hart is the only long-term competitor I can think of. This possibility is just one of many things to be excited about when it comes to the future of the national team.
I’m apprehensive about getting too excited about England, considering that the ‘golden generation’ has just passed with no trophies or achievements to their name. However I am more optimistic than I was a few years ago, quite a few players have burst onto the scene that look like great prospects. Alongside Wilshere, Tom Cleverly looks to be an exciting prospect who mixes great talent with the ability to battle and get stuck in when needed. Chamberlain, Theo Walcott and Danny Welbeck have shown that they can perform at a top level and unproven talents such as Raheem Sterling and Wilfried Zaha look to have what it takes to reach the very top. Let’s also not ignore Liverpool’s Jordan Henderson and Jonjo Shelvey. Further back in defence, Phil Jones and Chris Smalling provide a potential defensive partnership, although I would hold back judgement until they play more for the national team; playing for Man United would on the whole be very comfortable.
Most of the players mentioned have yet to take on an important role for their clubs, so I’m keen to stress that the potential is there, the finished product is not yet available to see. Because of this I would downplay any speculation of a new ‘golden generation’ whilst secretly being rather excited about the future of England. I believe these players would start to play a more important role in the national team after the 2014 World Cup. With a well-defined plan, the FA could capitalise on this situation and strive to make these players the best they can be.
I have little doubt that if Arsenal remain where they are in the league for years to come, the calls will eventually come for Wilshere to move to a bigger club; similar to the current situation with Gareth Bale. However, at Arsenal or not I can see Wilshere going on to become one of the greats of English football, possibly world football. He also has the leadership qualities to one day lead out a new generation of the English national team. What a player, and what a future.