Had it all gone to plan, Jack Wilshere would have been England captain by now.
That he is not is down to a myriad reasons, including frequent injury problems, stunted development and incompetent coaching on behalf of the England national team. Yet despite all of that, there are few English midfielders around with the ability that Wilshere has.
It’s rather baffling, as an England supporter, to see this country now depend on Jordan Henderson, Eric Dier, Jake Livermore, Danny Drinkwater and Fabian Delph in the middle of the park. These are, apparently, the only options Southgate has. The only thing more depressing than this collection of boring, uninspiring midfielders is the reality that you won’t find much better unless you go down several age groups.
It’s for this reason that there are calls for Wilshere to return to the squad. This has been reported as a desperate act from Southgate in a bid to turn England’s sleep-inducing football into something more exciting and productive. The simple reality is, though, is that this shouldn’t have to be act of desperation – even now, Wilshere is comfortably better than England’s other options.
Just as Arsenal fans forgot the talent Wilshere possessed so, too, has the general English public. As a teenager, he was the nation’s hope. He was an atypical midfield player who wasn’t about being box-to-box, putting a foot in and getting into the penalty area to score goals, but about playing in tight areas, linking-up with players and creating. He was so far and away England’s best passer of the ball that Roy Hodgson attempted to mould him into the nation’s version of Andrea Pirlo, even mimicking AC Milan’s famous diamond midfield to make it happen.
Those plans were ditched for the 2016 European Championships. Hodgson instead focused on shoehorning Wayne Rooney into his midfield at Wilshere’s expense. This was followed by an underrated year at Bournemouth, which failed to convince Hodgson’s replacement, Gareth Southgate, to continue selecting him. His place went to Jake Livermore of all people.
Quite how it reached this point is anyone’s guess.
Perhaps it was a token effort from Southgate to show that he was prepared to reward players for good form no matter who they played for. International football, though, doesn’t work on such a Utopian principle. It’s often about finding the missing pieces wherever you can, and make no mistake, England are missing a piece like Wilshere.
The only problem is his game time.
Wilshere finds himself on the fringes of the Arsenal first team now, good for the cup games but not quite ready for the Premier League, where he needs to be if he’s to convince people he can still do it for England. He may be needed, but Southgate isn’t going to have much use for a player short of match fitness.
To that end, maybe he does need to leave Arsenal.
As much as I enjoy watching him play in red and white, we need him far less than England do. As an England fan, I want see something a little more exciting and a little more cutting edge.
And for that, they need Jack Wilshere.