Why Wilshere Looks Like The Midfield General England Have Been Missing


There are two Jack Wilsheres in the consciousness of England football fans. One of them is perpetually injured or returning from injury - a stunted prodigy Paul Scholes accused of being stuck at 17 forever. The other is the flaming ball of light we saw at Celtic Park on Tuesday night.

Wilshere has never played better in an England shirt than he did against Scotland. It was a performance that evoked his Champions League turn for Arsenal against Barcelona in 2011, when the then 19-year-old took it to Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Co. and announced himself to the football world.

There were no such famous names in the Scottish midfield Wilshere conducted, but if anything that spoke louder to his maturity than had he been facing a powerhouse like Germany. Even after Gary Neville removed his headphones in the warm-up, Wilshere's motivation came from within. His focus was absolute. 

Slowly and surely, Wilshere is winning all of us over, all over again. 

How long have we waited for a England midfielder who breaks lines, beats players and dictates the tone with his passing? If there's been one since Paul Gascoigne he didn't do it often enough - and I include Scholes in that criticism, along with the anti-duo of Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard.

Two wins in four days for England, and both sparked by Wilshere's flashes of inspiration. First came his spin, sprint and pass to set Wayne Rooney on his way to winning a penalty against Slovenia. And then the gorgeous cross that invited Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to head home the opener against Scotland.

READ: Jurgen Klopp & 5 Managers To Replace Wenger At Arsenal

Remarkably, the latter was Wilshere's first assist for England, on his 26th appearance. That stat is a heinous crime against English football and Wilshere knows it. Yes, wonderful Wilshere passes have gone wasted - like his curled ball for Rooney against Estonia in October - but a man of Wilshere's talent should be delivering a measurable return on his talent.

Wilshere still hasn't scored for England, but that will change soon enough if Roy Hodgson continues to deploy Wilshere with the forward focus he enjoyed against Scotland. James Milner deserves credit for the coverage he provided behind, but it's Wilshere's drive and endurance that allows him to be two things for England.

Maybe Hodgson has been listening to Arsene Wenger. The Arsenal manager said last month that the days over Wilshere the water carrier were over. “He is not a ball winner," Wenger said. "I believe he is more a guy who you want to get close to the final third. To keep him deep you take a big part of his efficiency away."

You're also inviting Wilshere to tackle regularly, which often ends badly and increases the chance of his next injury of suspension.

Wilshere is no closer to Andrea Pirlo than Gerrard was. He's neither Pirlo's regista nor Totti's trequartista, but an old-school all-rounder who can "get up and down" with a sprinkle of magic sauce rolled in. That's where the Gascoigne comparison comes in. You might throw Bryan Robson's name in for good measure also - another who wore out the England No. 7 shirt every time he played in it.

Wilshere has the tools and tenacity to reach those heights - he might even be a better ball-player than Robson. The big question is whether Wilshere's body can stand up to the task.

For now, he's soaring. What wonders a run of games has done for the 22-year-old. Wilshere has started 13 of the last 16 games for Arsenal and England. Of those, he's been removed no earlier than the hour-mark and played the whole game on seven occasions. 

That teenage effervescence has returned. Freed by his full fitness, Wilshere is enjoying his football and expressing himself like that teenager who tore through Barcelona again. 

If Wilshere can continue on this theme, England have finally found a central midfield leader to point the way to their future.

Bet on this weekend's Premier League action.