It feels less than a moment ago since a fresh faced Jack Wilshere wrote his name into the record books by overhauling previous talisman Cesc Fabregas as Arsenal’s youngest ever player at the tender age of just 16 years and 265 days. By replacing future captain Robin van Persie in the lapsing minutes of a comprehensive Premier League win at Ewood Park, there the midfielder in turn became one of the most talked about young footballers in the Football League.
A player much in the same mould of his Spanish predecessor, Wilshere showed an immediate sign of things to come. His first Premier League bout was eagerly awaited by Arsenal followers and students of the game alike who had become increasingly aware of the midfielder’s impelling potential. Those who had closely monitored his head turning youth career had found great reason for hope and promise – hope that the teenager would develop into the continental playmaker that England had been crying out for for so long. Was this the dawn of a new breed of the English footballer?
Five years on and, injuries aside, few would argue that the Hertfordshire-born player has failed to justify the attention. A regular England international under both Roy Hodgson and Fabio Capello – the latter who claimed at the time that 19 year old Wishere was the most exciting young midfield talent he had ever seen and had even earmarked the Londoner as the heir to the England captaincy upon completion of just his fourth full cap – some praise from a manager as shrewd and unforgiving as the Italian.
On a club level, he is now arguably the first name on Arsene Wenger’s team sheet when fit – fitness related qualms being the ever-increasing weight on the midfielder’s young shoulders. If you were to type ‘Jack Wilshere injury’ into a web search, you would be presented with a list of results longer than Wenger’s match day overcoat. This growing portfolio of injuries has inevitably landed the England international with the ‘injury-prone’ tag, a label previously carried by an illustrious line including former West Ham wonder kid Joe Cole and more recently Michael Johnson, formerly a hot prospect at Manchester City who has now found himself without a club. He will be desperate to dethrone himself of this tag as quickly as possible to ensure that the inflating weight of expectancy resting on his shoulders is not replaced by a chip filled with regret and echoing sighs of ‘what could have been?’
Fitness concerns aside, the 21 year old has shown plenty to smile about. The Arsenal man plays with a maturity and poise that is seldom seen in today’s game. The boy has it all. Touch, technique, and a flawless range of passing that would rival almost any player in the division. He possesses a reading of the game that is far superior to his age and oozes confidence and passion in abundance. With no disrespect to the likes of Jack Rodwell, Tom Cleverley and Jordan Henderson, the Arsenal man is cut from a different cloth to his fellow under 21’s graduates. It is near impossible to find a flaw in Wilshere’s repertoire without digging deep into the disciplinary archive – an area of the player’s game which Wenger himself has admitted does solicit attention. That said, it would be premature to assume that the jury have closed their case. A distinct lack of goals (Wilshere boasts a return of 6 goals in 76 Premier League appearances) could be the factor bridging the gap between him and the heights of central midfield player including the likes of fellow Englishmen Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard. An unfair comparison perhaps? Not really. He can be that good.
As with anything in sport, only time will tell. It is without doubt that there is a warranted level of hope and expectancy that is currently weighted on the youngster’s flourishing career. The worry is that this hope will turn into a shadowing level of reliance and dependency. One thing that can be said for sure is that not many eyebrows will be raised if we see Wilshere making the headlines for all the right reasons at the Emirates throughout the coming season. And who would truly dare to rule out the prospect of Roy Hodgson handing the midfielder the Holy Grail of English football – the red armband.