Jack Wilshere was put on a pedestal the moment we first clapped eyes on him, and who could blame us?
An absolute natural, Arsenal and England appeared to have unearthed a talent with Gazza’s zip, Scholesy’s tekkers and Captain Marvel’s grit all rolled into one obscenely gifted teenager.
Arsene Wenger described him as having “a Spanish technique, but an English heart” and that brief assessment was spot on. He, and the rest of us couldn’t believe our luck. What a player. Happy days. We’re going to win the World Cup!
Now, we’re not quite as excited. Some people are even writing Wilshere off as a player that’s destined to never fulfil his potential.
Perhaps based on pictures of him with the odd cigarette, and having watched the occasional dressing down from Match of the Day’s pundits, they think he’s blown it. First of all, let’s remind ourselves that he’s only 22.
That’s the same age Scholes, Pirlo and Iniesta made their international debuts. Therefore I’d say there’s still plenty of time for his game to develop.
Secondly, since winning Arsenal’s Player of the Year, PFA Young Player of the Year, and being picked for the Premier League Team of the Year in 2010/11, the midfielder has spent at least 22 of the subsequent 39 months injured – including one devastating 17-month spell on the sidelines.
That bout of ill fortune would restrict most footballers’ development. Times have changed at his club too.
Where before, full of the joys of undamaged youth, he was virtually assured of his place alongside Alex Song in the heart of midfield, with Cesc Fabregas roaming in front; now he has the free-scoring Aaron Ramsey, Mikel Arteta, Mesut Ozil, Santi Cazorla, Tomas Rosicky, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and others to compete with for just a couple of central, creative spots. That has created added pressure to perform.
While there’s no need to get the violins out - it’s a factor all top level players have to cope with - when it’s new to you, when you’ve never experienced it before, it can take time to adjust to the difference.
When you know you’re top dog and everybody loves you it’s far easier to perform on a football pitch. During the last three years – for possibly for the first time in his life - Jack Wilshere hasn’t tasted that feeling.
It’s utter madness to write him off though. In fact, having watched every minute of his season so far, there are reasons to feel encouraged.
Over two legs against Besiktas in the Champions League he was busy, hungry and at times effortlessly stylish (especially at home when Aaron Ramsey was suspended) and, versus Norway for England, I saw a player who looked more confident in his surroundings.
With no Gerrard in close proximity demanding to pull the strings, I felt Wilshere took the first half by the scruff of the neck, probing with a stream of clever passes, seeing pictures nice and early, and as is his signature, nipping past opponents with the ball at his feet producing clever 1-2s.
OK, not everything came off for him at Wembley, but he was third in line for man of the match behind Liverpool’s Sterling and Sturridge.
If Roy Hodgson doesn’t ink him in as a regular on the England team sheet moving forwards I’ll be amazed. As long as he’s not told just to sit in front of the back four (that’s a waste of his creativity) I see him getting better and better for country. In midfield he can, and should be the main man.
Has Wilshere’s career failed to live up to our heady expectations? Yes, so far of course it has. Yet given the amount of football he’s missed, and the lofty pedestal we placed him on, that shouldn’t shock us.
Unfortunately he may not turn out to be the dream Gascoigne-Scholes-Robson-Pirlo-Xavi-Iniesta hybrid we’d all been hoping for, but he’s still a very good all-round footballer that provides quality in possession.
If we can just lower our expectations a touch and enjoy his ability for what it is, I still believe Jack Wilshere can be a class act for club and country for at least another ten years. Let’s get off his back, and leave him to it.
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