Since bursting onto the scene with Arsenal as a fresh-faced 16-year-old, Jack Wilshere has long been heralded as the future of the England national side, due to his unquestionable talent and technically sound playing style.
Indeed, current England skipper Steven Gerrard has been noted as saying: “I have no doubt that Jack [Wilshere] could be the man to succeed me as captain”, sentiment that suggests that the young talent could really continue to develop into a world-class player for many years to come.
However, as has been well documented, the early career of Wilshere has been somewhat of a rollercoaster of emotions, with glimpses of brilliance often curtailed by frequent injury problems and his infamously vulnerable ankle.
Therefore, as the dust settles from another memorable night at Wembley, in which England defeated Poland 2-0 to book their places on the plane to Rio, we take a look at the England midfielder and discuss the best approach to support the development of Wilshere.
First of all, supporters will often hear pundits, journalists and managers within football saying that a particular player needs as much competitive time on the pitch as possible, either to try and regain form or to continue it. In this mould, players such as Manchester United striker Wayne Rooney instantly spring to mind; Rooney’s recent vein of form, despite the accompanying protective headband that has earned him jeers from some onlookers, has often been aligned to the attitude of ‘keep him playing and he’ll keep performing’.
For Rooney, this model does most definitely seem to be the best option, as his stats this season illustrate.
However, for the likes of Wilshere, for at least the next 12 months, an alternative approach may prove more fruitful. On multiple occasions in a still young career, we have seen Wilshere move in-and-out of the first teams of both Arsenal and England due to injury, with his performances largely remaining to a high standard.
With this in mind, another injury troubled England star comes into thought, the recently retired Tottenham defender Ledley King; the centre-half famously played brilliantly in some of Spurs’ biggest games with little training or match practice beforehand. Far from saying that Wilshere is the next Ledley King, it is argued here that the style of the Arsenal man’s play could lend itself to a careful approach to his management.
For some, the idea of deliberately limiting the opportunity of one of England’s most talented footballers to play every week may seem foolish, but I would argue that such a step would only need to be a temporary decision and that; in fact, the process has already begun at both club and international level.
It is no secret that Arsenal’s investment into the central midfielder areas is one that has left supporters both impressed with the talent on show but also wondering as to how Arsene Wenger could possibly keep all of these players happy.
For Wilshere, however, the inevitable rotation policy required to satisfy the appetite of Arsenal’s midfield is a factor that could genuinely benefit his career in the long-term. In a dynamic central midfield that is yet to see the return of Santi Cazorla, Abou Diaby and Mikel Arteta, Wenger’s side still have plenty of options that can take a lot of pressure off young Wilshere and allow him to make an impact when he does feature.
Within the context of England, manager Roy Hodgson has turned recently to the experienced pairing of Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard as his deep-lying midfield pairing, with other players knocking on the door for a first-team place, such as the dependable Michael Carrick.
In a similar way to Arsenal then, Hodgson has been able to shield Wilshere from risking injury in crunch games, where the competitive edge and 50-50 tackles are more frequent and injury risk is perhaps greater.
For example, Wilshere only featured as a late substitute for Roy Hodgson’s England side in their final two World Cup qualifiers this week, against Montenegro and Poland respectively.
Rather than a tactical decision to make a difference in the game, it seems as though the two cameo appearances from Wilshere, which each latest approximately ten minutes, were to reacclimatise the player to the feel and pace of an international game whilst limiting the element of risk of injury; first signs suggests that the player came through these two appearances perfectly.
Finally, in the long-term, it is clear that Wilshere is considered, and rightly so, as an integral part of both the set-up at Arsenal and of that within the England squad, as his talent and work-rate has not gone unnoticed by peers, journalists or supporters.
As a result, it is the belief of this author that the current measures taken now to protect the midfielder for both teams is a wise approach to aid his development for the rest of his career and that such a ‘cotton-wool’ mentality is warranted in the present context, with circumstances in the favour of both Arsenal and England to preserve Jack Wilshere; eventually, this approach could lead to an injury free midfielder that is capable of playing week-in week-out without the famous magic sponge in sight.
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