The Jack Wilshere conundrum: What would you do if you were Gareth Southgate?
Gareth Southgate has recalled Jack Wilshere to the England squad but he needs assistance from you on how best to utilise one of England’s most talented players. Can you help guide the England caretaker manager on what to do? Get involved in the story below.
Gareth Southgate has named his squad for England’s upcoming matches against Scotland and Spain.
Kane falls into the pretty problematic club versus country row and the Rooney question has been debated and counter-debated, and the general consensus – and one that is seemingly held by both Southgate and Jose Mourinho, given their recent selections – is that Rooney is no longer good enough to start every game for club or country.
Southgate’s most interesting selection, then, is that of Jack Wilshere.
SHOULD WILSHERE BE IN THE SQUAD?
Cast your mind back to February 16 2011, and Wilshere put in a man-of-the-match performance as Arsenal beat Barcelona 2-1 at the Emirates Stadium in their first-leg last-16 Champions League encounter. It seemed to provide confirmation that the hype that had surrounded Wilshere for so long was fully justified.
2010-11 Champions League Arsenal's Jack Wilshere and Barcelona's Andres IniestaReuters
However, a combination of factors – chiefly injury – have meant that the 24-year-old has rarely, if ever, reached those heady heights since. Hindsight may view his omission from Sam Allardyce’s first England squad as his footballing nadir that prompted Wilshere into action, and a move to Bournemouth to resurrect a career that had stalled badly.
Roy Hodgson's decision to take Wilshere to the Euros was both incredibly loyal but also unfair on the player.
Having suffered an ankle injury in August 2015, Wilshere had started one Premier League game and played 141 minutes in total before boarding the plane to France. Whether he was match fit was open to serious doubt and his form was anyone’s guess.
The Arsenal midfielder’s tournament was an unmitigated disaster.
However, having sought out first-team football at Bournemouth, Wilshere has played himself back into form and has shown a steady improvement over the first third of the season. There is no doubt that he is one of England’s most talented players and on form – which he is now – he should be a member of the squad.
SHOULD HE START?
Wilshere has been managed well at Bournemouth where he has been gradually re-introduced to first-team football. Crucially, though, the former Arsenal man has only been expected to play one game a week.
That fact has greatly benefited him. England will play a pair of games in a matter of days – Friday and Tuesday. Could Wilshere withstand the rigours of two games in quick succession? Or should he be in and around the squad to reacclimatise with the expectations of international duty?
If Wilshere is in the squad then he has to start one of the games. It would pretty much be a waste of time for all parties concerned if he did not feature and start at least once. If he plays less than 45 minutes across the two games then surely he would have been better served training with the Cherries.
Wilshere’s rehabilitation is ongoing rather than complete and that is the key here. Is he ready for the intensity of an England-Scotland World Cup qualifier? He has still only completed three full games this season, so being thrown into the heat of that sort of battle against Scotland is not only a risk for the player but also his team.
England interim manager Gareth Southgate during the press conferenceReuters
The counter-argument is that he is a fierce competitor. However, that has sometimes been to his detriment – the last thing Wilshere should be doing is flying into tackles as he might be tempted to against Scotland. Perhaps his injury worries have curtailed that instinct, or perhaps not.
The far more sensible option would be to play Wilshere in the relatively less combative environment of an international friendly against Spain. Playing in such a fixture would still provide a test of Wilshere’s fitness and sharpness – but in a far more controlled arena.
WHERE SHOULD HE PLAY?
Let's assume that Wilshere will feature in some capacity this coming week.
Hodgson tended to deploy him at the base of a 4-2-3-1 formation. The reasoning behind that was pretty clear: Wilshere marries technical excellence with a combative nature that lends itself to playing deep, dictating the tempo of the game but also offering some protection to the back four when required.
The other option would be to play him where he has been operating at club level – nominally the number 10 position that bears the lion’s share of responsibility as the side's creative spark.
It has to be the number 10 role. England are – and this is not hyperbole – historically weak at the back, with the centre-half area emerging as a particular problem recently. The central defensive pair need dedicated protection and for all the will in the world Wilshere can’t offer it. He has – and always will be – a forward-looking player. Southagte has played a 4-1-4-1 formation for his two games in charge so to play Wilshere in front of the back four would be asking him to play completely against his instincts.
England's midfielder Jack Wilshere warms up ahead of the friendly football match between England and Turkey at the Etihad Stadium in Manchester, north west England, on May 22, 2016AFP
Circumstance dictates that England have not been afforded a crop of players that have regularly played together. Therefore it is important that the players who do feature should play in the positions they are accustomed to at club level. Dropping Wilshere back would only undermine the progression he has made at Bournemouth.
Wilshere is England’s outstanding creative player - certainly since Rooney's decline looks terminal - so he deserves to test that skillset in a position that best suits him. If Southgate selected him on the strength of his performances at Bournemouth then he needs to play in his natural position.