Jack Wilshere is the future. The chosen one, he’s the face of English football for the twenty-first century. Miraculously, he remains somewhat personally underexposed for the amount of hype that surrounds him. Without him, the future of both Arsenal and England seems less positive.
His rise has been meteoric. Two seasons ago he was a seventeen year-old making occasional Carling Cup appearances, whereas today he is first-choice for both club and country. People have lined up to douse him with praise, not least his managers Arsene Wenger and Fabio Capello. The future’s rosy, the future’s Wilshere.
But his wish to play in the Euroean Under-21 Championships this year has put Wilshere’s two footballing allegiances on a direct collision course. North London management has no desire to risk their prize asset suffering burn-out, injury or fatigue. In the eyes of Stuart Pearce and many others, he is England U21s best midfielder and hence the best chance of a podium finish at the tournament.
Which poses the question – is Jack Wilshere more valuable to England or to Arsenal?
There are many parallels between the Wilshere dilemma and that of Wayne Rooney 6-7 years ago – he is young, talented and enthusiastic about playing for both club and country. Their teams are/were in the Top Four and each represented the tantalising taste of a new, unscarred generation. Wilshere, like his now struggling colleague has the combination of exuberance, sublime skill and mongrel that has occasionally looked lacking in his teams and is so crucial to success – the mix to become a world-beater.
Since Rooney’s debut, the only potential world-beaters to debut for the Three Lions have been (maybe) Arsenal teammate Theo Walcott and custodian Joe Hart. Other England debutants have been functional and usually leading premiership players but most often limited; Jack Wilshere’s recent displays in white mean he should be among the first midfielders Capello selects.
Not only is it Wilshere’s talent and potential that’s vital to England, but also what he represents. Jack Wilshere is the first of his U21 brethren to make the leap to full International regular. Though it’s likely, Wilshere isn’t necessarily even the most talented player of his generation either, just the first to make his mark on the international stage and therefore the best for his age. He is a glimpse into the future of England football, impossible to ignore. Jack Wilshere needs to play for England not for Fabio Capello, Arsene Wenger or even himself, but for English football fans.
The word talisman is overused in football – “As Zidane goes, so does France”. “As Cantona performs, so do United”. Though those two players properly defined the word talisman, they could also simply be known as instrumental in performance. The word is belittled when lower echelon players are dubbed a talisman rather than instrumental. Wilshere’s importance for the national setup has now transcended his increasingly important performances on the pitch and he has become a talisman of things to come.
This may be true of England, but what of Arsenal? Their case is also based on what he represents: a local boy with the talent to stamp his authority on a famous club with an equally famous (and expensive) lineup. It could be that his value for Arsenal, moreso than England, depends on his performances simply because there would seem to be greater central midfield depth. This depth comes from players in their prime, like Fabregas, Song and Nasri or the potential of Aaron Ramsey, Henri Lansbury and even Abou Diaby.
Jack the Lad’s skill/mongrel ratio is weighted differently from each Arsenal’s midfielders and his enthusiasm and work ethic allow him a unique role and thus able to fit in seamlessly with all of Wenger’s other options. He is so treasured by Arsenal supporters (host of the Arsenal podcast The Tuesday Club Alan Davies recently said he wouldn’t swap Wilshere for Andres Iniesta) because he forms with Nasri and Fabregas a vital component in a troika of midfield poisons of which an opponent must choose one. Of course England relies on his performances as well, but for the Gunners faithful, they know they have a player on whom they can rely.
The question presents an unthinkable and theoretical choice, but it may be England’s bigger picture need which means Wilshere is more valuable to the Three Lions than for Arsenal. If only for reasons of depth – while Lampard, Gerrard and Barry drift into the ether, Wilshere has been anointed to pick up the pieces, perhaps even as captain.
At Arsenal, he is supported by the high-profile-but-still-amazingly-young trio Fabregas, Ramsey and Nasri. Song and Diaby remain in their early or mid-twenties, where Lansbury and Miyaichi look to follow his lead. Wilshere’s value to Arsenal is immense – measurable only by a fictional, guesstimated transfer price (40-50 million pounds perhaps, in the unthinkable situation of him wanting out of Arsenal). He may not be replaceable, but there is more fertile soil for Wenger to plough in search of a substitute. For England, he is new hope. Can you measure that?