Jack Wilshere opens up on the Gunners academy system as he says: “All I ever wanted to do was play for The Arsenal as a kid’
- Credit: Picture: DANNY LOO
Arsenal U21s take on Cheltenham Town on Tuesday evening in the Checkatrade Trophy. Read our exclusive Jack Wilshere Q&A as the much-loved former Gunner who spent 17 years of his life in North London opens up about being a youngster at the club, his views on the academy and U23 system as well as his memories of the superb 2009 FA Youth Cup-winning side.
What do you think about the academy system?
I always said to my dad when I was younger that if I’m not around the first team squad by the time I’m 17/18 then I’d go on loan or leave. I’ve always said if you’re good enough you’re old enough. Arsene was brilliant with me. There’s a lot of pressure at a club like Arsenal because you have to win. You have to be challenging for trophies. And it’s easy for a manager to say: ‘He’s too young to play’. I remember our first game of the season we played Liverpool away [1-1] and I gave the ball away for their goal. He could have easily said you’re not ready but I played every game in the Premier League that year. If you’re a young player now and you’re not playing now – there is a time for U23s but if you’re playing at that level for more than one or two seasons then I don’t feel like you’re developing.
You’re not going giving yourself a chance if you want to break into men’s football because you’re not developing.
As a Hitchin lad do you think heading down to the capital to train with streetwise London lads toughened you up a little?
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Definitely. I had to get the train into London then get the train into Cockfosters tube and get picked up to train. When I was 15 I actually moved into North London into digs with a family. Looking back it was hard that I left my family but it was also one of the best times of my life. I was playing football in the morning then doing a bit of schoolwork. The whole experience helped me grow up.
I lived with Wojciech Szcz?sny. It was good fun. In the afternoons we would play on the PlayStation. I still keep in touch with him now. He obviously moved to Italy last year. He’s just had a kid actually so it’s difficult to see each other at the moment but [smiles fondly] yes we still keep in touch.
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How did it feel as a 16-year-old lad from Hitchin making your debut for The Arsenal at Blackburn. 4-0 at Ewood Park against Sam Allardyce’s Rovers as I recall?
It was a dream come true. It was pretty surreal. I remember I’d played a lot of games that year. I was desperate to play as much football as I could. I scored against Sheffield United in the League Cup [in a 6-0 win].
I just thought I was ready to play, ‘why aren’t I playing?’ Of course looking back I was probably nowhere near ready. To play in the Premier League at 16 with all these great players I’d watched growing up really like Cesc Fabregas and Robin van Persie was a dream come true.
Q: What struck me watching you at that age was that, similar to when I saw Tony Adams as a 17-year-old, you weren’t afraid to share your thoughts with older pro’s and if necessary hand out a lecture or two if you thought the situation required it
I love the club and I’d grown up with the club. All I wanted to do was play for The Arsenal as a kid as. Growing up, naturally I was always that type, even at school. I’d always been demanding of my teammates. You can’t teach that. I don’t it ever leaves you either.
Q: There was a lot of talent in the 2009 Youth Cup Final winning team that Arsenal produced. What are your memories of playing in that two legged final in front of 33,000 at the Emirates [in a 4-1 victory to win the trophy 6-2 on aggregate]
A lot of those players had played in the first team in the Carling Cup. We had a good team. It was almost too easy for us at that age. Looking back to then it was one of the best times of my career. It was a strange period for me in a way because I was in the first team, in the dressing room. But I remember speaking with Steve Bould who was the manager [of the youth team at the time]. He wanted me to play, especially in at the Emirates. Although I was in the first team [squad] I never really got the chance to play [at the Emirates]. It was brilliant.
You grew up a lot in your year at Bolton?
I wanted to play. They wanted me to sign a new deal back in 2010. I stayed for the first half of the year, played a few league games, a few Carling Cup games. I must have been driving him [Wenger] mad because January came and he said to me: ‘Go and play some games.’ I had a few choices. I could have gone to Hull or Sunderland but it must have been transfer deadline day. Me and my dad were drove up to Bolton and we got out of the car and it was freezing and I recall thinking: ‘Jesus what are we doing here?’ But, no they were brilliant. Owen Coyle was brilliant. I think I said before it was like a finishing school but that’s wrong. It was more like a massive learning curve.
Playing in the Premier League. There was a different mentality. You’re playing with people who need to win games. Need to get their win bonus. Need to win for the fans. That’s a different mentality than youth football. It made me grow up. Gary Cahill was there. Kevin Davies. This is a Bolton team known for being horrible. They let me develop. Sometimes in midfield when I got the ball I’d try and beat a player but I’d lose it. But they encouraged me to keep going. They were brilliant with me.
The Jack Wilshere Soccer School runs in Letchworth today, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Courses are available for boys and girls aged four to 15. Everyone attending will be given a trophy and a signed photograph of Jack.
Across the three days youngsters will also have the chance to meet Jack and receive expert coaching from him and coaches provided by soccer school associate Paul Deller and his ‘Grassroots Soccer’ organisation.
There is also an open day on Wednesday for parents and children to take a closer look at the great work Jack’s soccer school does with a view to booking up for the next event.
To book visit www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/jack-wilshere-and-grassroots-soccer-school-tickets-48987092713
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