International football has returned to the forefront after England got their World Cup year up and running with a rather uninspiring draw in Holland in midweek. But it was the hype over one player prior to the squad selection that had me astounded.
A successful pre-season campaign has seen Jack Wilshere continue to develop his ever-growing reputation. The young Arsenal protégé broke into the Arsenal first team last season with a handful of impressive performances, most prominently in the League Cup where he became the Gunners’ ace in the pack.
The attacking midfielder quickly became recognised as a nimble, skillful individual, capable of moments of brilliance—the quintessential modern Arsenal player. While being the personification of modern Arsenal may not be something that can be completely equated with success, manager Arsene Wenger’s admiration for Wilshere is enormous.
But he’s not the only coach that holds Wilshere in high regard. England manager Fabio Capello is a keen admirer.
There is nothing wrong with that. But as Capello announced his squad for the fixture against the Oranje, he felt it necessary to publicly single out Wilshere as a possible candidate for a trip to South Africa next summer.
“We have time before we decide if he goes to South Africa,” Capello was quoted on the BBC Sport website.
“It will depend a lot on whether he plays for Arsenal. He’s in the squad for the Under-20s and will go with them to Egypt and that will be very important.”
For me, this was at best a careless, off-the-cuff, and ill thought out comment. At worst it was an idiotic one, with the potential of ruining any medium term international ambitions that Wilshere may harbour.
It has to be remembered that this young man is only 17. He can’t even legally visit his local boozer for a cheeky pint yet and can only just learn to drive*. He hasn’t had a full season of Premier League action—not even half of one. Yet the England manager is talking about a possible involvement in a World Cup, less than 12 months away?
The only result of Capello’s words will be an increased burden on the shoulders of an adolescent. Wilshere will have known deep down anyway that if he continues his good form onto the Premier League stage then he has a chance of making the squad. Talented players know how talented they are.
Of course, Wayne Rooney withstood similar premature praise when he burst onto the scene. But his personality allowed him to deal with the added pressure, and to channel that into a form that could aid his performance. Does Wilshere have the same attitude and tenacity? Well, Wenger thinks so.
"Jack reminds me a bit of Rooney when he started, in his belief and his positive attitude to go forwards,” Wenger pondered.
However, Wenger has urged caution to the media, and others, who continue to repeat his name.
“He has still a lot to learn, relations with other players team-wise, but there are some great basics there.
"But as a manager you do not want a guy to be a star before he has delivered, and maybe here that is more difficult than anywhere else."
Wenger knows more than most about the progression of young players, and these quotes show why. He is a great believer in the fact that players do not become ready for the highest level until the mental side of their game begins to mature—a stage which he says does not occur until between the ages of 18 and 20. At 17, Wenger won’t be rushed by anyone to push Wilshere into regular first team football when he’s not ready.
Wilshere may indeed be special. But the comments of the England manager at such an age must be unnecessary. By next summer Wilshere could have had a season of top flight football under his belt.
Then Mr Capello can show his cards.
*N.B. Not that he has hung around; it took Wilshere just nine hours to pass his test.