Arsenal and England youngster Jack Wilshere has been in the spotlight for both club and country since the age of 18 but the 21-year-old received his first taste of criticism this week following his performance in England’s goalless draw with Ukraine.
England boss Roy Hodgson rightly defended the Gunners’ youngster, citing his lack of match fitness as a major factor in what had been an underwhelming performance.
"Jack is still looking for full fitness," said Hodgson. "That is why we took him off in the second-half.”
The Independent asserted on Wednesday that Wilshere is ‘not ready’ for international football – as if the quality of international football is somehow superior to the club football the youngster play in the Premier League and the Champions League. Incidentally, their 'answer' is Michael Carrick.
On the night, commentator Ditmar Hamman stated he done nothing to warrant the description of ‘world class’ as my colleague Jamie Allen outlined this week, and all manner of critics have assuredly asserted that the youngster is not quite the saviour of his country that he had previously been hailed as.
Firstly, Wilshere was placed up there on that pedestal by those very same critics when he was well below his currently technical level three years ago due to his strong and impressive displays for Arsenal and Bolton on loan.
His club manager Arsene Wenger has always been wary of places great expectations and pressure on the youngster, despite his nation’s tendency to do the opposite.
His fitness is nowhere near 100 per cent – he spent nearly 17 months sidelined and returned for a few months before undergoing yet another surgical procedure this summer, hampering his pre-season involvement.
His boss Wenger will likely be both pleased and relieved he was taken off by Hodgson against Ukraine as the Gunners boss will want to avoid pushing him too hard too soon and overplaying him to the point of burnout which likely played a large part in his 17 month injury layoff in the first place.
How will it affect him? Wilshere is a tough cookie by all accounts – he has the desire, commitment, work ethic and attitude of a ‘world-class’ professional. He’s never come into the criticism he has this week before but I would imagine he won’t let it affect his game for Arsenal and certainly Wenger will be keen to instil confidence in him and shield him from his critics.
His Arsenal midfield teammate Aaron Ramsey suffered a similar fate in recent seasons – his own injury layoff led to diminished form when he returned as he struggled to keep his confidence, then he was demoted from his captaincy with Wales but this season he looks to be back on track and playing to his potential.
Wilshere is mentally strong, even if not physically at present, and I would imagine it’ll either be ‘water off a duck’s back’ to him or, perhaps, he’ll use the negativity to drive him onto disprove the naysayers.
In the context of the season, I think the criticism of Jack Wilshere may end up being a positive outcome for Arsenal who will likely see their still very young leader reassert himself at the highest level – in the Premier League and Champions League. I think by the time the World Cup rolls around next summer, Jack Wilshere’s critics will be singing a very different tune and Arsenal will be the direct beneficiaries of that.
image: © Ronnie Macdonald