Jack Wilshere: Why the Euro 2016 is a make or break tournament for the Arsenal player
Heads were scratched raw when Roy Hodgson released his final 23 member England squad for Euro 2016. The decision that baffled most was the inclusion of Jack Wilshere, who has started just one game all season for Arsenal, ahead of Premier League winner Danny Drinkwater who appeared 35 times for Claudio Ranieri's Leicester side and garnered huge praise from pundits and fans alike.
Their career paths could not have been more different. Wilshere burst onto the scene in the 2010-11 season when he famously led Arsenal to victory against Pep Guardiola’s all-conquering Barcelona side. Aged just 19, the world was his oyster with immediate comparisons to Paul Gascoigne and Paul Scholes. But that was to be the highlight of his career thus far as he has had five injury-ravaged seasons since.
At the same time, Drinkwater was a trainee at Manchester United’s Youth Academy but could not break into the first team. Loans at Huddersfield, Cardiff, Watford and Barnsley followed and in 2012 he secured a permanent move to Leicester City in the Championship. This proved to be the turning point in his career and he has gone on to make 164 appearances for the Foxes, guiding them first to the promotion and then to Premier League glory.
The Cinderella story would have been complete by turning out for the Three Lions in their bid to win Euro 2016. But Roy Hodgson went with prior England experience instead of red hot club form and picked the Arsenal star. With critics waiting on the wings to pounce, the pressure is firmly on Wilshere to deliver.
Wilshere divides fans in a way similar to John Cena, with many fans feeling he is given too much attention and special treatment while a small section (mostly Arsenal fans) feel he is entitled to his chance because it’s just that he has been plagued with injuries. His passion for the game has never been in question.
Every time he is out on the field he gives his all. A leader on the field, he has been earmarked as a future captain of Arsenal, the only problem has been that he has failed to nail down a starting spot.
His detractors call him fragile and his struggles off the field with smoking have been well documented. And there is ample evidence to add weight to these claims. With just 17 league appearances across the last 2 seasons and further being caught smoking on 3 separate off-field incidents, he really isn’t making much of a case.
His public image has taken a battering in recent years and the media, who earlier adored him, have almost completely turned against him.
And yet, given the chance, he has proven that he can produce magic. Wilshere was the England’s go-to man in midfield in qualifiers for the Euros and was man of the match in six out of the seven games that he played in. He also produced arguably the best individual performance of the qualifying campaign when he netted two superb long-range strikes in a crucial 3-2 come from behind win in Slovenia.
But that was nearly a year ago and injury has ensured that he has not been able to do much for club or country since.
A Tale of Highs and Lows
Born into a family of West Ham fans, Wilshere has been a fan of Arsenal since he was signed by the club at the age of 9. He quickly rose through the ranks playing in all the age brackets. Eventually, he made his League debut at 16 years and 256 days of age, breaking the record held by Cesc Fabregas.
A successful loan spell at Bolton followed before he eventually broke into the first team in the 2010-11 season. A regular feature in central midfield, he featured 49 times for Arsenal that year including that outstanding performance at the Emirates against the Catalans. Instantly in the limelight, Wilshere was hailed as the best thing to come out of the Arsenal academy since the left foot of Liam Brady.
But it proved to be too much too fast as he suffered a stress fracture on his ankle in May 2011. What followed was a 17 month lay off for the promising youngster that caused him to miss an entire season for Arsenal and the Euros in 2012. His much-hyped return came against QPR, a first league start in 524 days, and he made an immediate impact producing a typically combative performance that saw him crowned Man of the Match.
The next two years were a bumpy ride for the midfielder with small layoffs coming amidst some good performances. But he couldn’t nail down that central midfield spot. He played on both flanks, keeping out natural wingers Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, and even as an attacking midfielder.
It seemed as though he was getting back to his best with a scintillating display against Manchester City in September 2014, where he gave an assist to Alexis Sanchez and scored, in a 2-2 draw.
But he had to undergo surgery on his left ankle after damaging his ligaments in November of that year. He missed the next 4 months, returning just in time to feature as a substitute in the 2015 FA Cup Final. This was followed by the aforementioned standout performance for England against Slovenia.
Just when things looked good, he broke his fibula bone in preseason training that ruled him out till May 2016.
At 24, time is swiftly running out for Wilshere as more and more fans are losing their patience with him. His style of play (he likes to run with the ball and commit opponents) provokes tackles and he has suffered repeatedly because of this. But there is a certain beauty to his game.
On top form, he can win a game on his own and this coupled with his versatility to play as a winger, attacking midfielder and even a deep lying playmaker are the main reasons for his selection. It’s safe to say that it’s make or break time for Wilshere and Arsenal. England fans can only hope that he finally delivers on the promise of being a world beater.