Opinion: Why England Must Still Build Their Team Around Jack Wilshere
As England prepare for the first of four friendlies before kicking off their World Cup campaign against Tunisia in June, it’s still unclear as to what a team under Gareth Southgate would look like and the philosophy by which he’d operate from.
Southgate has attempted a number of systems in recent months as England cruised through their qualification campaign, often mirroring formations most of his players were more comfortable with a club level.
This time around, though, the biggest story from his squad announcement was the return of Jack Wilshere, a player he was oddly harsh on when asked why he missed out in previous squad announcements this season.
Southgate claimed that Wilshere hadn’t played enough football to warrant an inclusion, and didn’t regard sporadic Europa League appearances as ‘regular playing time’. It felt like the former Middlesbrough boss was constantly moving the goalposts to justify his decision, something which led him to take it upon himself to call Wilshere personally to clear the air.
Wilshere’s injury record has been well documented as well as over exhausted, with constant references ignoring the fact that he’s been consistently present on the pitch for almost two seasons now. The 26-year-old made 27 appearances for Bournemouth last season and has already made 31 appearances this term in all competitions.
His current form meant that a call-up was inevitable, but Southgate must go one step further – he should publically state that he intends to build his team around the Arsenal playmaker.
Wilshere is a unique quantity among the ranks, he’s the first of his kind since Paul Scholes and given how the national set-up botched up that talent, the same mistake cannot be made this time around.
International football is built on possession, which is very hard to accomplish if you lack a few key components – one of those is a deep-lying playmaker.
A player who’s comfortable receiving the ball in his defensive third regardless of the bodies hunting on his every touch, and one who could potentially carry the ball himself into the attacking third.
A player who doesn’t shy away when his team needs him and is also cute enough to know when to slow the play down with calculated passes and winning niggling free-kicks. These are all qualities Wilshere has in abundance.
While rival fans and some in the mainstream press may hist at this notion, it is one that’s been echoed by people who know what they’re talking about.
“He’s the best English midfield player by a street,” Gary Neville said on Sky Sports, a former England coach himself.
“I worked with all of the English midfield players for four years and he could play in any single team in this country and live in that team or any single team in Europe, he is that good.”
The Wilshere superlatives don’t stop there and they’re not geographically restricted either, with many household names across the globe voicing their admiration of the diminutive star.
Just last week as Arsenal prepared to face AC Milan for the second time in a week, Genaro Gattuso couldn’t hide his admiration of Wilshere, a player who he first encountered during his playing days in the Emirates Cup eight years ago.
“Wilshere had a lot of physical problems and is a player I always appreciated, but he’s unusual. He combines English grit with Spanish technique. I like him a lot.”
Players such as Bastian Schweinsteiger, Xavi, Iniesta and Andre Pirlo have also reserved special praise for the England man in the past, which should send alarm bells ringing domestically that we have a special talent on our hands.
England does have other players capable of causing damage in the top-end of the pitch with the likes of Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling enjoying efficient campaigns, but forward players need a base from which to build from.
That base is Jack Wilshere.