I am not a father. If all goes to plan I won't be for some time yet, but seeing Jack Wilshere's latest tobacco-laden indiscretion has got me coming over all maternal.
Being a similar age to Wilshere, connecting our upbringings has been a natural consequence of following Arsenal. We have grown up together, regardless of Wilshere's disinterest in my trials and tribulations. As an avid follower of the midfielder, it came with a sense of shock but a lack of surprise to see him pictured smoking for the third time in 12 months.
Once again I felt let down by the man I have vested so much into. He was supposed to be a world-class local boy, committed to the cause, a picture of health, inspiration to millions. So far his career has followed anything but my proposed trajectory.
"When he’s here he has to follow the rules that we dictate here, when he’s out of his job it’s his own responsibility to behave like he wants to behave"
His troubles with injury are, of course, not his fault and the smoking, lamented by some, only adds to the frustration of seeing someone I care about failing to reach the lofty heights I set out for him.
It is the classic mistake: expect too much from someone and they are destined to fall short. While Wilshere has certainly done his reputation no good, deciding whether to reprimand him is not my job or anyone's for that matter.
Always philosophical, Arsene Wenger tried to extinguish the fire Wilshere had lit by reminding the media that he enjoys a free society like the rest of us.
Wenger told reporters today: “I’ve spoken with him about that [smoking] and he’s not a smoker. He is of course sorry for what has happened.
“It’s down to him to master his life. He had the day off the next day and he went out to watch the Superbowl. When he’s here he has to follow the rules that we dictate here, when he’s out of his job it’s his own responsibility to behave like he wants to behave."
There is, of course, only so many times you can say sorry and mean it. His past two incidents with smoking have both been followed by a PR-polished apology. This time, a defiant yet cryptic message to his Twitter fans:
It's not the 23-year-old's fault that a picture from a cameraphone can make its way around the world within seconds. Just 15 years ago, when he joined Arsenal's academy, the photo would probably still be processing in Boots. This is the way the media is now and it is the reason why these incidents are so rare.
Boring, boring football
Extensive publicist teams work night and day to make sure their client's media image stays squeaky clean. Have you noticed how 'exclusives' with Premier League stars are getting more and more boring? And that they usually come with pre-approved pictures of the player wearing some cheap t-shirt blazoned with a garish logo? This is football now. It's all about the marketing, it's all about the perception.
Wilshere isn't playing that game. There is an essence of bohemian about him that we all agreed to squeeze out of the game to make room for the Premier League generation. We may boast the richest and most popular division in the world, but that has been at the expense of coolness.
Football traditionally came with an unshakeable sub-culture where the stars of the show would be athletes at 3pm and rock stars by midnight. The late, great George Best is the perfect example; Diego Maradona another. These players were loved because they reached the top in spite of their vices.
Breaking the mould
Nowadays it takes so much dedication to make it that it usually comes at the expense of personality. Wilshere was essentially taken out of quotidian society when he joined Arsenal's academy as an eight-year-old, but has been one of the few to integrate into something we might consider normal.
It seems Wilshere is as close to a rock star footballer as English football can get. He has got personality and talent in equal measure. Sacrificing some of the latter for more of the former could stop him winning Ballon d'Or but may ultimately give him legendary status as an alternative football culturist.
If he doesn't reach his astronomical potential it won't be because he inhaled a shisha pipe in one of north London's fine Middle Eastern restaurants. That, already, will be too much for some to accept. Correlation does not mean causation, but it is easy to suggest his seemingly fragile ankle ligaments are linked to the amount of smoke in his lungs.
Even if they are related, that is ok. He doesn't need to be the best in the world to be happy. In the end, being yourself is key to happiness. And while parents may expect the world from their children, seeing them enjoy life is the real success.
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