Response to ajmaines46: “Jack Wilshere – Future England Captain?”

Sports blogger ‘ajmaines46’ wrote an interesting article (http://ajmaines46.wordpress.com/2014/03/06/jack-wilshere-future-england-captain/) which questioned whether Jack Wilshere would be the future England football captain. The issues of ability, fitness and opinions of experts were all duly raised in that piece yet I felt there were some key points left out of the argument.

Being an Arsenal fan, I have seen Jack Wilshere play more than most. In the youth teams he was certainly seen as, and proved to be, a star in the making. Most Arsenal fans were first made aware of him with this performance and goal:

It was not long after when he made his debut for Arsenal at the age of 16 and, again, he quickly progressed from squad player to first team regular when he played 49 games in Arsenal’s 10/11 season. No doubt, he was part of a great team with a midfield 5 of mainly Walcott, Nasri, Fabregas, Song and himself. But he was such an imposing force on every game he played in, that he was arguably the first name on the team sheet.

What was his best attribute? At the time, you couldn’t say. He was an oustanding defender who made great use of, what I would call, the hooked slide tackle – where he would go to ground, win the ball and then get up having kept possession. Fabio Capello called him “the new Makelele” as I recall. That was a great compliment to his defensive game, but in reality, he was much more.

He was a player that had great spacial awareness and frequently let the ball run across his body to then play a pass or to run into space. His dribbling and movement upfield was again exceptional. His vision of the game was positive and he executed it well with fantastic close control and a range of passing that was almost on a par with Pirlo’s, Xavi’s and Gerrard’s. His performance against Barcelona at home demonstrated that.

Pep Guardiola said that there were many Wilshere’s in Spain, notably in Barcelona’s second team. If so, why weren’t they in the Barcelona first team when you see a performances like the one in the video. If so, why have so many people praised Wilshere when that level of talent is so common? If so, why weren’t these players playing at Arsenal and other top clubs across Europe? I mean, it’s not like Wenger would have missed them and he has never hesitated in buying a Catalan.

However, an ankle injury struck Wilshere in the summer of 2011 and subsequent injuries during recovery meant he was out for the whole of the 11/12 season. He did return strongly just before the turn of the year in late 2012 and carried a beleaguered Arsenal team for a fair while. Playing in a worse team didn’t help but time showed that he wasn’t of the same standards as before.

His passing is deemed as inconsistent because, at times, he seems to try things that just aren’t on. Often, Arsenal tend to lose the ball in important areas as a result. Fans then get frustrated and Wilshere becomes anxious. He will get better with those decisions over time.

My main concern about Wilshere, though, is his movement. Those magical bursts that he would produce to open up the opposition midfield are now a rarity. Why? Not because he’s forgotten how to do it. Not because he hasn’t got the technique. It’s because he usually get’s fouled before he gets past them. Where before, he would take the ball and himself past players with consummate ease and with an elegance too, he now gets bundled over by an attempted tackle.

Before the injury, he was too quick for players to even touch him. So he has obviously slowed down. Is that a lack of match sharpness or permanent damage to the ankle? Maybe it’s a little bit of both. However, there’s something else I’ve noticed with Wilshere. He’s bulked up. Before he was quite a scrawny young lad yet he was very strong on the pitch. He was strong enough to force people off of the ball, yet nimble enough to avoid drawing a foul. The main difference now is that he is often late in a challenge or just barges into players. His bigger physique is also easier for defenders to bring down.

If you think I’m wrong – look at Messi. Nobody says he’s weak yet I guarantee he would struggle in a fight. He can wriggle past people with no problem as well as win the ball back yet he has never bulked up. That’s what Wilshere did wrong in my opinion. It would be interesting to get the Arsenal physio’s perspective on that.

His performances have not been as great as a result but he is still of huge benefit to Arsenal and England. He’s not injury prone though. He got one injury in 2011 – a very bad one. In recovery he suffered some set-backs. Is that unusual? For me, it is unusual when a player has a lengthy injury and comes back immediately with no problems at all, playing at the same level as he was. Is a player injury prone when he has a bone broken in a tackle as he had on Wednesday night?

In regards to him being England Captain when Steven Gerrard retires, why not? He absolutely should. I need to dispel the rumour that you need to have captained a club to be International captain. As was pointed out, David Beckham was England captain having never been club captain before then. The other candidate to replace Gerrard, Wayne Rooney, is behind both Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra in the captaincy stakes at Manchester United.

Looking at other countries, Italy who are four-times World Champions have a policy where the most capped player on the pitch is captain. Therefore it can vary from game to game. You don’t need one iconic captain to ‘lead’ a nation to victory. The Czech Republic have Tomas Rosicky as captain. He was out for 18 months with injury and has probably captained Arsenal five times in seven years ahead of people like Petr Cech and Jan Koller. They’re not a great national team but injuries obviously don’t matter either. Hey, Gerrard has had his fair share.

Wilshere has been compared to Zidane and Liam Brady. The latter is probably a more accurate comaprison. The fact is, although you can compare styles you can not compare people’s careers and achievements. Their team mates, time period, managers, opposition are all different so comparing achievements would not be worthwhile but rather confuse the issue.

Just because a player like Zidane played very well in and won the World Cup in 1998 (on home soil) it would be very unfair to expect Wilshere to be the player who won it for England. Firstly, England and that France team are on very different ability levels. And I’m not too sure that players such as Vieira, Blanc, Pires, Petit, Thuram, Henry, Trezeguet, Deschamps and Desailly would appreciate comments that Zidane won the World Cup “arguably on his own”. In fact, he wasn’t even top scorer for France in the tournament, Henry was.

And when looking at a new captain, you can’t just say Wilshere’s not good enough because he’s not perfect. You need to look at the other candidates to see if there’s anyone better. We’ve discusses Wayne Rooney. He’d be ruled out on the same grounds as Wilshere was – both have had their foot broken, both have never been Club captain, and both made n early debut and still haven’t won a World Cup “on their own”. Rooney’s hardly an example setter either, having admitted using prostitutes in the past.

Who else is there? Joe Hart – his place has been under scrutiny after some dodgy performances and it seems that it may be due to overconfidence. Being made captain wouldn’t be great for keeping him grounded. Frank Lampard or Ashley Cole – they’re probably further down the career line than Gerrard. Baines would be a good shout but he is no spring chicken and he has Luke Shaw and Kieran Gibbs right behind him so his place is not secure either.

A centre back may be a consideration. Either Gary Cahill or Phil Jagielka would do a good job but neither have made great names for themselves on the international scene. Phil Jones? Well, he doesn’t even have a regular position at his club so he needs to sort that out first. As for a Right Back, who is England’s first choice? Kyle Walker or Glen Johnson? To be honest, both are lucky to be in there due to our lack of defensive quality in that position.

I just want to conclude by saying that Wilshere set a very high standard with his first half century or so of performances. Since his comeback, he hasn’t lived up to that, which isn’t really a great surprise considering the length and type of injury. There are areas of his game where he can improve – his physique being one of them – to get back to the style and quality he was playing with before. When he gets back to that level, he will be a world beater of a player.

Nevertheless, he still deserves to be in that England team (there’s not much competition anyway) based on current performances and is still one of England’s best players. The future is his for the taking and England and Roy Hodgson should make a bold move just like Gary Speed did as Wales manager.

Just let me remind you of what he did with Wales. He saw a player in Aaron Ramsey that had the potential to be a great but was struggling to return after a terrible leg-break. Speed ignored the obvious choices of Gareth Bale, Craig Bellamy or Ashley Williams to be captain and gave Ramsey the armband whilst he was still in recovery. The rest was history. Wenger and Speed showed great faith in Ramsey and Ramsey is showing all of us why they did.

It’s a remarkably similar situation to Wilshere don’t you think … Wilshere would be my pick. What would yours be?

 

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