Arsenal's Jack Wilshere Is No Longer England's Only World Cup Hope

John CrossSpecial to Bleacher ReportMay 22, 2014

LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 14:  Jack Wilshere of England controls the ball during the International Friendly match between England and Scotland at Wembley Stadium on August 14, 2013 in London, England.  (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

Even before the end of the last World Cup, the focus was already on Jack Wilshere.

I listened as Three Lions boss Fabio Capello sat in the media tent back at the Football Association's training base at Royal Bafokeng, South Africa, and listed the reasons for optimism less than 24 hours after another dismal England failure at a major tournament.

On top of that list was Arsenal's prodigious young midfielder, who, despite being just 18 at the time, was being held up as the great white hope for the nation's footballing prospects.

Capello left his job as England manager before any of his predictions were given time to be proved one way or another.

Thankfully, for a variety of reasons, some of the pressure and expectation has been removed from the 22-year-old's shoulders in recent months.

Wilshere has been dogged by injuries, and there is a realisation that if England are to succeed then Roy Hodgson cannot just rely on him.

Wilshere in action during England's training camp
Wilshere in action during England's training campRichard Heathcote/Getty Images

Another major factor is that, suddenly, despite recent pessimism, there seems to be a new wave of exciting young English players coming through at the right time.

Hodgson has looked to the likes of Luke Shaw, Raheem Sterling, Jordan Henderson, Daniel Sturridge and Adam Lallana, even though the latter is now 26.

Such is the optimism toward the young players that Hodgson felt able to include 18-year-old Shaw in his squad ahead of the vastly experienced Ashley Cole.

Shaw has played just 45 minutes of international football; Cole is 33, has won 107 caps and is England's most reliable and consistent big-game player. But Hodgson seems ready to gamble on youth over experience.

VALE DO LOBO, ALGARVE, PORTUGAL - MAY 21:  Manager Roy Hodgson talks with Luke Shaw during a training session at the England pre-World Cup Training Camp at the Vale Do Lobo Resort on May 21, 2014 in Vale Do Lobo, Algarve, Portugal.  (Photo by Richard Heat
Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

Let's be realistic here, England are not going to win the World Cup, but, suddenly, there is an optimism about their chances, the future and a group of young players with little to fear as they head to Brazil.

There are still flaws in the England set-up. Who will partner Gary Cahill in central defence? Who will make up midfield? Can a system work with Wayne Rooney and Sturridge?

But if England can solve those issues, they have a group of young players who can surprise and upset a few odds this summer.

Wilshere is still regarded as potentially the crown jewel in England's future. But, after another season dogged by injuries, others are sharing the limelight.

The Arsenal man is a player who relies on sharpness, match fitness and confidence to really get to the top of his game. He's not had much time to get back into the groove before Brazil.

But if Wilshere can show in the training camp in Portugal and Miami—together with the three friendlies—that he is nearing full fitness, then he can push for a place in the starting line-up.

If not, Hodgson might surely look to Steven Gerrard and Henderson plus a different midfielder to make up his trio in the middle. Maybe Lallana. Maybe Rooney in the No. 10 role. Maybe even a change of shape.

The point is that Wilshere is now happy to be a part of the group, rather than expected to be the central part of the group.

LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 06:  Steven Gerrard of England is congratulated by Jack Wilshere of England on scoring the opening goal during the FIFA 2014 World Cup Qualifying Group H match between England and Moldova at Wembley Stadium on September 6, 2013
Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

As Wilshere himself acknowledged, there is a new buzz around a young and exciting group as the old "Golden Generation" begins to move on.

“I think it's a nice feeling to be part of that,” said Wilshere, per “Ashley Cole said it's time for the youngsters as well. You've seen other countries do it in the past. You've seen Germany, they look really strong now.

“There are young players [with England], but before we talk about inexperienced, there are players who have played a full season in the Premier League. They are not that inexperienced. They have learnt at the top level and proved themselves at the top level.

“The togetherness is important as well. We're all young. A lot of us have played together at under-21 level. We get on well. The younger players will stick together.”

You can see that England do have a nice mix of young and old, different generations. And, thankfully, we no longer have to rely on Wilshere alone to be the new sign of hope.