Jack Wilshere, the hope of a nation at one point, has lost his way.
Like a punk rocker at the ballet, Jack Wilshere stands out. Or is he a tuxedoed gentleman at a punk concert? Whatever he is, there is something quite extraordinary about Wilshere.
His style of football has influences of Spain and Holland. Not quite a centre midfielder, not quite an attacking midfielder, his enigmatic playing style has left him inexplicably marooned between the two.
For England, under Roy Hodgson, Wilshere was tasked with the holding midfield role. At Arsenal, Wenger believed Wilshere to be a wide attacking option – possibly to reduce the burden of expectations of playing him as a number ten. Last season, Eddie Howe predominantly played Wilshere through the middle, charged with using his subtle footballing style to probe opposition defences.
Yet it has been a long time since Wilshere truly shone.
There are a variety of theories revolving around the midfielder’s malaise. He has not always surrounded himself with the best personnel and has been pictured, a number of times, enjoying the frivolous lifestyle most young men are wont to do.
His inability to cement a position in any one team – whether it be England, Arsenal or Bournemouth has undoubtedly knocked his confidence, his punk rock mohican gone limp.
But the real villain of Wilshere’s faltering career are his glass ankles.
A career that had little transition time between hope and action – Wilshere announced himself to football with a world class performance against Barcelona in a Champions League knockout tie in 2011.
Very little time had ensued from the first reports and testaments that Arsenal had a special talent in their ranks to actually seeing him in action.
His performance that night was a master class: a microscopic image of his ability to pass, tackle, link play, run with the ball and essentially dominate three of the world’s best midfielders: Xavi, Iniesta and Busquets.
This was Teenage Kicks by the Undertones, this was the start of an era. And just like John Peel on the first time of hearing such a seismic tune, many Arsenal fans re-watched that performance again and again.
It wasn’t supposed to happen like that. He’s English. He was supposed to tackle and harry. Press and foul. Occasionally have a shot from distance. But his intricate style of play juxtaposed his English passport.
It is somewhat ironic that the competition that announced his arrival was also the scene for his most troublesome of injuries. In 2009, Wilshere suffered an ankle injury against Olympiacos. Looking back on that game, Wilshere was fouled on three occasions before half-time. Whilst many were probably delighted that Arsenal had a young player willing to run at the opposition and attract fouls, the warning signs were clear.
Two years later, and on the eve of a new season, Wilshere suffered his greatest setback: a fracture to his right ankle. Although the England midfielder was tipped to return to action by February 2012, Wilshere didn’t return to October of the same year – seven months late.
Despite only returning to action in October, Wilshere suffered another ankle knock in the North London Derby against Tottenham Hotspurs in March. As he was due to miss at least a month of action, the club took the decision for Wilshere to have surgery on his ankle.
Despite the surgery, Wilshere suffered further injury. Once at the hands of a Paddy McNair tackle, others due to the daily rigours of his occupation.
It is clear that this is an issue that concerns Wilshere.
He is said to have been very down after the McNair tackle and even took to social media to query accusations that his ankles were brittle. The young England midfielder suggested that any player would have suffered an injury in such a position and that this was not down to a recurring problem.
Just like confidence, ankles are a very fragile thing – it’s sad that it seems Wilshere suffers from a deficit in both.
Last season was a fresh start for Wilshere. The midfielder who is almost shorn of the adjective ‘young’, was presented with an opportunity for first team football away from the Emirates. An initially reluctant Wenger agreed to the loan deal hoping it would profit Arsenal in the future.
However, not only did Wilshere suffer another injury blow, he also failed to cement a position in the Bournemouth first team.
Wilshere is at a crossroads in his career. Reports speculate that the midfielder is willing to return to Arsenal and allow his contract to expire next year. Others say he’s willing to leave Arsenal for West Ham.
His confidence is shot and it seems his patience has passed.
Wenger will not want the midfielder to go and I’m sure assertions will be made about his playing time and the joint aspirations for the club and the player. But time waits for no man. In six months’ time, Wilshere will be 26. He should be entering the prime of his career.
Unfortunately, fragile ankles have cost Wilshere a place in the upper echelons of Arsenal and, perhaps, sport.
He may return to action for Arsenal, he may even finish his career there – but it’s hard not to believe that his chance of greatness is gone.