Integral to England’s Euro 2016 plans or a crazy gamble? Derek Bilton focuses on Roy Hodgson’s Jack Wilshere paradox.
For those fed up of the absolute circus surrounding Manchester United and their protracted dismissed of Louis Van Gaal over the weekend, there was the consolation of finally seeing Jack Wilshere back at the heart of England’s midfield. Granted it was hardly awe-inspiring stuff from the Arsenal man, whose display was more workmanlike than worldy before he was withdrawn after 66 minutes of a surprisingly competitive friendly against Turkey. But for a player who has played just 141 minutes of first-team football this season the important thing was to get through the match unscathed. Job done in that respect, but he still faces a race to make it onto the England plane heading over the channel to France in just a few weeks.
There are plenty of people who feel he should be nowhere near the squad given his current fitness issues and injury history. This is a player who has been plagued by fitness problems since bursting onto the scene as a precocious 16-year-old some eight years ago. This season has been a virtual write off, while he also missed a large chunk of the season before that and has not completed a full 90 minutes for Arsenal since September 2014. That is a worrying statistic when you think about the rigours of modern international tournament football and you wonder just how his body will hold up when going tete-a-tete with Europe’s best.
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In stark contrast, Leicester City midfielder Danny Drinkwater is in the form of his life and has a Premier League winners medal on his sideboard at home having starred during the Foxes’ unlikely title triumph this season. Indeed Drinkwater started more Premier League games this season than his Euro 2016 midfield rivals Wilshere, Jordan Henderson and Fabian Delph combined.
Let’s have it right here, Roy Hodgson is taking a sizeable gamble by going with Wilshere. Just a week or so ago Vicente Del Bosque bombed out Jack’s Arsenal team-mate Santi Cazorla from his provisional Spanish Euro 2016 squad after expressing doubts about his fitness. Cazorla was out for five months but like Wilshere returned to action at the end of Arsenal’s Premier League campaign. For him though it was too late with Del Bosque remarking “We didn’t want to have too many players with doubts about their physical condition.”
Hodgson has doubts about Wilshere’s physical condition but he is a player in whom he has complete faith in terms of his ability. He is a player who helped England forget the shambles that was the 2014 World Cup with a series of accomplished displays in Euro 2016 qualifying. The 24-year-old played in five qualifiers, and you could make a case for him being man-of-the-match in four of those. He’s a player Hodgson trusts. He’s done it before for him and he’s done it when it mattered.
Unsurprisingly Wilshere himself is in no doubt he can reach peak fitness before England’s first match against Russia on June 11. After Sunday’s 2-1 win at the Etihad he said: “You always have those dark days when you are in the gym where you think you’re not going to get back. But the thing that kept me going was I know what it takes to get back and I always had time on my side so I was confident.”
A fully- fit Wilshere is a special talent. His display at the base of the diamond in England’s win away to Switzerland – their first competitive game after Brazil 2014 – was fantastic. Do Delph, Henderson or Drinkwater have the technical ability of Wilshere? Of course they don’t. But then what good is technical ability if you are limping around a physio room at a major tournament unable to influence matters on the pitch? It’s a huge call for Hodgson. But for me, all things considered, taking Wilshere is a gamble worth taking. If it comes off and he does get up to full speed in terms of fitness and starts doing what we know he can, he could be the difference between the Three Lions going all the way and finally ending 50 years of hurt. But if he ends up crocked and England slip to another early exit. Well that doesn’t bare thinking about.
Jack is going to be Hodgson’s best friend or his number one enemy this summer. That is the Wilshere paradox.