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Jack’s back? Wilshere’s journey from prodigy to tragedy and back

Manas Gera
CONTRIBUTOR
Feature
961   //    01 Oct 2017, 01:14 IST

Arsenal v Rangers - Emirates Cup
Boywonder: A teenage Jack Wilshere giving opponents the blues.

Back in the monsoon of 2015, Ray Parlor and Sol Campbell had flown down to Mumbai for a Puma event. I had the fortune of interacting with the Invincibles, and also the misfortune of going blank in awe at a point. 

A question was put forth to them asking - which present player do you think would run through a brick wall for the Arsenal. In unison, they answered, Jack Wilshere. 

Rise and shine, Jack

It’s always a sweet story when a boyhood fan of a club goes on to play at senior level. And he didn’t just perform for the Gunners, a 19-year-old Jack outperformed the iconic duo of Xavi and Iniesta on a memorable Champions League night at the Emirates back in 2011. 

Going back a few years, Wilshere became Arsenal’s youngest League debutant ever at the age of 16. Physical strength, composure on the ball, and an eye for the killer pass - Jack’s control of the midfield belied his years and it didn’t take long for a national call-up. 

Many were already thinking it, but Fabio Capello made it official when the England manager of the time tagged Wilshere as, ‘The Future’. Jack sure did come about as a guy who’d thrive under the pressure. But quite unfortunately, the lad buckled. His ankle - too literally. 

Arsenal v Wigan Athletic - Carling Cup Quarter Final
Broken ankle and hopes: 2011-12 was a season to forget for Jack.

Up in smoke

Now, there’s a queer difference between an injury to a regular footballer, and an injury to an Arsenal player. In January 2008 when Tomas Rosicky did his hamstring, Wenger insisted it’s a matter of “days, not weeks”. The Czech midfielder played his next game in September, 2009. 

More recently, Santi Cazorla had an Achilles injury that was initially believed to keep him out for three weeks. We all know how that plays out. Wilshere suffered a stress fracture in his ankle in the pre-season of 2011. Wenger initially stated, “The news we have for Jack is very positive.” Jack didn’t play a game that season.

The curious case of an Arsenal injury is a story for another day, but Wilshere’s injury issues began a downward spiral that shattered hopes of club and country. 

Niggling injuries followed at regular intervals, forcing the Englishman to hit form only in patches before returning to the treatment room to begin another agonising recuperating period. 

Doubters creeped up. In this while, there have been spats with journalists, and pictures have been leaked on the internet with a cigarette between his fingers. The smoke from the shisha hadn’t even faded when he popped up another finger to earn him a 2-game ban. Not to mention, his best impression of Ben Stokes at the nightclub. 

Arsenal v Manchester United - Premier League
Fiesty much: Jack relishes a good fight. Not an afro.

In 2015, former housemate and one of his best friends at the club, Wojciech Szczesny moved on to Italian shores. But, this cake of frustration with an icing of doubt had its final cherry placed in the summer of 2016. 

“The Future” was ignored from the national squad going to the World Cup qualifiers. With game-time not promised at Arsenal, Jack opted to spend the season at Bournemouth. With all due respect to the Cherries, that was a step down. 

 Will the real Jack Wilshere please stand up? 

Now that’s a terribly arduous journey for a footballer at any age to go through. He may not have made the smartest decisions in his career, yet no one can deny the man’s got heart. There’s no quit in the man and that attitude has seen Jack possibly on the brink of first-team football at Arsenal yet again. 

Arsenal v Doncaster Rovers - Carabao Cup Third Round
Jack's back: Man-of-the-match in his latest game. The signs are promising.

The aforementioned Invincibles, fans of the club, and man that matters, Arsene Wenger would love to see him flourish again in Arsenal’s red and white. But, he’s into the final year of his contract and Wenger has stated more than once that it all comes down to his fitness. 

In the few games he’s played this year, he’s shown sparks of class. His touch was greeted with a loud roar among the Arsenal faithful. He may not be as young, but the promise the man holds is still grand. A career-defining season follows, and if injuries stay away, sheer willpower shall prevail. 

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Manas Gera
CONTRIBUTOR
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