The development of Jack Wilshere as a footballer has been curious. A player who as a teenager was considered to be the most gifted English footballer since Paul Scholes, who put in an incredibly mature and technically proficient performance against Barcelona in a Champions League match at the Emirates Stadium in 2011, has wilted somewhat, the promise he showed in the early days, so far, largely unfulfilled.
Intermittent injuries haven’t helped, with too many spells on the sidelines disrupting his progress. As a result, his place in the Arsenal side has rarely been secure, and instead he’s been shifted around to slot in wherever needed rather than trusted in one position.
It’s led to a long period of underwhelming form, a run of two seasons where he’s failed to impact games in the way his technique demands. It’s been difficult to argue with his critics – one of which was Scholes himself – who said Wilshere was underperforming and on the periphery of matches far too often.
The sight of him used as a bit-part player at this World Cup has been desperately sad. Those who saw a teenager full of style and technical ability with the ball will surely have ear-marked him as a definite starter in Brazil, yet his only start came once England’s exit was confirmed, and even then he was subbed off before the end. The 22-year-old only managed 90 minutes in the entire tournament.
Yet, almost by default, he’s set to become a more regular starter during England’s Euro 2016 qualifying campaign. Steven Gerrard’s role looks likely to reduce – possibly even end – now this World Cup is over, meaning Wilshere’s chances of starting will vastly improve.
And not only are there gaps opening in the current midfield set up, but surely Hodgson, or whoever is in charge for the Euro 2016 qualifying campaign, will be considering a shift to a three-man central midfield with a defensive anchor. England are desperate for more control and possession in the middle of the pitch and there have been no signs that a midfield two can offer that on the international stage. It’s vital, particularly at international level, the have the lion’s share of possession, and at present England are too often dominated and outnumbered in midfield.
Indeed, Gerrard and Frank Lampard may well have worked had they had an Owen Hargreaves-type player sat behind them offering defensive security during the years spent failing to gel. Why a succession of managers have dogmatically stuck with a two-man midfield is a mystery to many.
Who the deep-lying defensive midfielder would be is unclear, but Wilshere is a frontrunner to play in one of the two roles just ahead of them, if his form can consistently reach the level he’s capable of. He has energy and can create, his passing is his finest attribute, and if he starts to impose himself on matches more often he will become an England regular. He must begin prove the early hype wasn’t completely unfounded.
Even at this World Cup, there’s an argument he may have been a better option than Gerrard or Jordan Henderson, both of whom struggled to make an impression in Brazil. Gerrard looked tired and incapable of influencing the game in the way he has done for so much of his Liverpool career, with Henderson also well off the pace. Wilshere’s performance against Costa Rica in his only World Cup start wasn’t great, but he at least offered the odd thrusting run or fleeting moment of guile and craft. It was more than the much-feted Liverpool pair had managed all tournament.
Gerrard may well never play for England again, and so too Lampard, with the former Chelsea man appearing likely to move to the US. No 36-year-old playing Major League Soccer can realistically expect to be involved with England.
Gerrard and Lampard finishing the game in the Estádio Mineirão together, surely for the last time, was symbolic. The changing of the guard is in full swing, and it’s Wilshere, with all his natural talent and ability, who’s best placed to capitalise.