When any of the world’s elite footballers stand up and rave about a fellow professional then you can bet that there will be millions of fans around the world listening. Xavi will go down as one of the all-time greats and a technically gifted midfielder who pitted his wits against many of the finest players of his generation – and that’s where Jack Wilshere comes in.
Wilshere’s stand-out game in his Arsenal career so far remains his domineering performance against Barcelona in the Champions League six years ago. The then 19-year-old ran rings around the likes of Xavi and Iniesta while putting in a defensive shift to help Arsene Wenger’s side run out 2-1 winners in what many consider to be the Gunners’ most impressive victory at Emirates Stadium.
“If he had a career that had been injury-free we would already be talking about him as one of the top central midfield players in Europe,” Xavi said in 2015.
“I have played against him, I have watched him carefully, and if he can overcome injuries, then he can still go on an be one of the best midfield players in the world.
“With all respect, he doesn’t play the English way. He has an excellent passing range, an ability not to lose the ball, it is clear that he has had his education at Arsenal.
“Now I see Wilshere as the future of English football, that is why it is so important they keep him fit.”
There have been iconic moments through Wilshere’s tenure at Arsenal and it’s fair to say he has had several off-the-field troubles which have landed him in hot water through the years. From the anti-Tottenham chanting at the 2014 FA Cup final parade to being caught smoking twice, Wilshere, now 25, has gone from being the poster boy of English football to an advert for unfulfilled potential – a label which he seeks to change as the season progresses.
Having to deal with the pressures of fame, fortune and being in the spotlight 24/7 may have impacted Wilshere during his younger years and it’s undoubtedly those experiences that have made him a stronger person altogether.
“Nowadays it’s not just the media writing about you. All I’ve got to do is look at my phone and I’m probably getting abused on Twitter every few minutes. You definitely get a thicker skin and learn to deal with it.
“The biggest mistake I made in my life? It’s tough. Probably being caught smoking because I’ve said it before and some people don’t believe me but I’m not a smoker. I don’t smoke. It was a mistake I made on a night out. I definitely regret it. I made the same mistake twice.
His injuries certainly haven’t helped either. Wilshere’s first issue in 2011 saw him ruled out for over a year and stunted his development due to a series of setbacks, while a broken ankle after a mistimed challenge from Manchester United defender Paddy McNair in late 2014 ended the midfielder’s season prematurely.
Last term, with Wenger spoilt for midfield choice at Arsenal, the decision to send Wilshere on a season-long loan at Bournemouth was one met with disappointment and cynicism from many fans. Despite showing signs of promise early on, a broken leg sustained at Tottenham in April hampered Wilshere’s hopes of making his mark on the Gunners’ pre-season tour of Australia and China.
Wilshere completed his first full 90 minutes for Arsenal since September 2014 when he started and finished the Carabao Cup tie against Doncaster Rovers last week. It was a huge personal milestone for a player who has seen the early stages of his career ravaged by injury – and provided much needed optimism for a player pinning his hopes on going to Russia 2018 with the England national team.
“Against Doncaster he was vintage Jack and that’s what we want to see from him here at Arsenal,” Per Mertesacker said before Arsenal’s Europa League game with BATE Borisov.
Wenger has already said that he believes Wilshere has matured during his year on loan at Bournemouth and feels that the Englishman has removed an “impulsive” streak from his game.
That determination to win his place back in the team can only be seen as beneficial for the Arsenal squad and a cup run for Wilshere – coupled with staying clear of injuries – should see him edge ever closer to becoming the player that Xavi saw and dubbed ‘the future of English football’ on the Emirates Stadium pitch six years ago.
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