Wilshere the real casualty for England ahead of Euro 2012

by Jamie Clarke

It’s a customary tradition for England’s preparations for a major tournament to be marred or potentially scuppered because of an injury to one of it’s key players or an off field event being whipped up by the media but, just two months until England kick off their Euro 2012 campaign in Ukraine, against France, this is the case once more. No manager, no captain, no star striker for the opening two games and now without their young starlet, Jack Wilshere, England are, simply, in disarray.

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Whilst the main spotlight may be on the FA and their continuous delay over naming the next England manager, which is likely to come at the end of the Premier League season, others were keeping a far closer eye on Wilshsere’s ankle injury that has prevented him from playing a single match for Arsenal this season. There was hope that the 20-year-old central midfielder would be back in action as early as March, which would have given him plenty of time to gain fitness ahead of Euro 2012. This, though, failed to come to light with club boss Arsene Wenger officially ruling him out of this summer’s tournament earlier in the week – and possible inclusion in Great Britain’s Olympic side.

Although Wilshere has only completed one full season for Arsenal and half a season on loan at Bolton Wanderers, he has wasted little time in making inroads for what looks likely to be a successful career. Owen Coyle praised his ability to “tackle and take a knock” which is what a lot of British managers want from their players and is deemed as a necessity due to the tough tackling nature of the Premier League. Wenger himself agrees with the notion that, despite his height and stature, Wilshere can cut it against some of the tougher players. But Wilshere has far more than that amongst his armory.

What makes Wilshere stand out from so many at his age, and when compared to other England internationals, is that he simply can not be categorised into a certain bracket or type of player. His ability to pass at short length and build from the back would lead to the clear indication that he is best suited as a deep-lying playmaker. Wenger, though, has used him as an advanced playmaker and as a central midfielder who, avoid the cliché, will get from ‘box-to-box’ also. He and Alexander Song worked in tandem superbly in the 2010-11 season with one going and one staying when Arsenal were on the attack.

England fans in particular were drawn to him because of his determination and grit. His fiery, competitive spirit as well as being a fine footballer, earned him respect amongst many from the off. The media soon began the comparisons to Paul Gascoigne, which is incredibly inaccurate – both very different players and personalities. There is one comparison, though, which bodes a slightly closer resemblance and that is the similar qualities he shares with Paul Scholes. Both players demand the ball and want to be part of the initial stage of building attacks. Both great passers of the ball but Scholes has a more varied pass range – short and at length – whereas Wilshere opts to keeps it short. The Arsenal midfielder, however, is a much finer tackler of the ball. And the final attribute that both share, is that they time and choose their forward running to perfection – intelligent in knowing when to join the attack and when to sit. This is why so many have called for Paul Scholes to come out of retirement to step in for the absent player at Euro 2012.

Former England manager, Fabio Capello, admired his talent and said of the player:

This is not normal: to be so young and so good.

Wilshere has gone on to make five appearances for the three lions before injury halted his progress. After the disappointment of England’s lacklustre World Cup in South Africa, Wilshere was earmarked as being one of the key players that could make up a new, more youthful England. The ‘golden generation’ had tried and failed too many times and Capello had acted on this by starting his own mini revolution. Wilshere came into the side immediately at the expense of Gareth Barry or Frank Lampard and the then injured Steven Gerrard. He was joined by other young players such as Joe Hart, Chris Smalling, Phil Jones, Danny Welbeck, Daniel Sturridge and Kyle Walker who will all likely become more settled in the squad ahead of the World Cup in 2014. And Wilshere will likely return to the England fold once he has regained full fitness, preferably before England’s opening World Cup qualifier later in the year.

His performances for club and country soon gained him praise amongst rival managers in the Premier League and in Europe. Barcelona manager, Pep Guardiola, caused a stir in the British media and at Arsenal headquarters last season ahead of their last 16 Champions League tie when he was quoted saying ‘we have many types of player like him in the second team’. He did also label Wilshere a ‘great player’ for Arsenal and England, but this avoided the media frenzy that ensued. Many believed Guardiola of showing arrogance and hyping up his own players at his disposal but, in fact, it was quite the opposite.

Whilst Wilshere may be a rarity in terms of style and talent in the English game, in Spain, however, it is a common practice to produce players of his quality on a regular basis. Barcelona is the main hub obviously for some of Spain’s finest current and upcoming talent but throughout La Liga you can find many talented possession minded footballers’ whereas clubs in England struggle to develop players of this mould. To avoid the temptation of going off topic and to scrutinize the coaching system in England, and the way in which kids are brought up playing football (hit and run), it’s best to just say that not many Wilshere’s come through the current system too often. We should treat him like gold dust.

Wilshere was seen as England’s last hope for possible success this summer, which is why his injury has dented their expectations. The main worry for most – including the manager who is yet to be named – is that the players’ who had previously failed in South Africa may yet be used again, which no one wants to see. Wilshere was likely to start alongside stand in skipper Scott Parker in centre midfield at Euro 2012 which, unfortunately, will now not happen. Parker and Gerrard are England’s main options in central midfield with the likes of Barry and Lampard hoping for another chance to prove their worth. With Wilshsere’s ability to dictate tempo and sheer want of keeping the ball can only mean one thing: England must do all they can to convince Scholes out of retirement to fill in during his absence and, if this fails, then Michael Carrick would be a more than suitable replacement. There are huge doubts over England’s chances this summer – not just because of Wilshere’s absence as there is far more going on, but this is a huge blow to their chances.

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Jamie Clarke writes for That Tackle by Moore, an England based football blog.