Arsenal’s Jack Wilshere on his ‘crazy’ debut season
Teenage midfielder has risen from an unknown to regular for both club and country
It was not quite the perfect ending to his breakthrough season, but Jack Wilshere wasn’t complaining at Wembley on Saturday.
He might have nothing tangible to show for his 60 games in the last 10 months apart from a Carling Cup runners-up medal, but everyone in the game knows he has achieved a lot more than that.
The 19-year-old is now an automatic first-choice for both club and country after Saturday’s dazzling display against Switzerland.
And, Wilshere acknowledged afterwards, it is not a position he nor anybody else could have imagined a year ago.
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“It has been a crazy year. At the start of the year, there was talk of me going back on loan to Bolton,” admitted the midfielder who caught the eye of many during his four months at the Reebok Stadium from January to May 2010. Three months later he was granted his first Premier League start for Arsenal in the 1-1 draw at Anfield on the opening day of the season, and it was a chance he did not let slip from his grasp over the ensuing nine months.
“The manager at Arsenal said he wanted me to play 20-25 games and I’ve played 60 games this year.
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“It has been a crazy year but I’ve enjoyed every moment of it. I’ve surprised myself, really, but hopefully I can do the same next year,” added Wilshere, who is under no illusions that he has set himself a standard which will be hard to maintain next season.
“I’ve still got a lot of work to do,” he admits. “I’m 19, there are good players at Arsenal who want to take my position and there are even better players with England who want to take my position.
“So I’ve got to work hard and try to keep myself in every team that I play in.”
Fabio Capello certainly seems convinced that Wilshere is worthy of retention in the starting XI for England, an elevation that has been as rapid as it has been remarkable.
Wilshere’s first England start was only in February, his first competitive match being the 2-0 Euro 2010 qualifying win over Wales in Cardiff in March.
But with Steven Gerrard still sidelined, the teenager stayed in the side against the Swiss, and was easily the most impressive of the central trio that also featured Scott Parker and Frank Lampard.
Lampard was substituted at half-time and is 32. Parker is 30, the same as Gerrard. Wilshere is a more than a decade younger than all of them, and on Saturday he certainly looked like the future.
Can he live with the pressure, the expectation of being England’s brightest star since the emergence of Wayne Rooney seven years ago, if not Paul Gascoigne in the late 1980s?
“I play at a big club. The expectation level is big. From when I was 16, the expectation has always been high,” came the level-headed answer from the young Gunner. “We are a top-four club and we want to deliver trophies and win every game.”
Just two weeks after the nation had seemed to be insisting that Wilshere joined Stuart Pearce’s Under-21 side for the European Championships in Denmark that start this weekend, that notion now seems ridiculous.
Wilshere is England’s crown jewel, and the reality would now seem to be that the side can be built around him and a fit Rooney ahead of next summer’s rather more important tournament, Euro 2012 in Poland and Ukraine.
“I have to get ready for next season and there is a big tournament coming up (Euro 2012) and I have to be ready for that,” admitted Wilshere, although he acknowledged that qualification is not yet a formality.
“We know we could’ve won [on Saturday] and been in a stronger position,” he added.
“We’ve got to play Montenegro yet [in Podgorica on October 7] and we’re confident that we can go there and get three points.”
Before he starts to worry about that next task, Wilshere has the summer break his body – not to mention his manager – has been crying out for.
“I have to get my feet up. I’ve got four weeks off. I’m going to go away and get on a beach for a couple of weeks and then come back in pre-season rested and ready.”
All Arsenal fans, and maybe now all England fans too, will be hoping that is the case.