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Very rarely do you come across a player, an English player at that, who possesses the kind of football maturity and intelligence way beyond his years – Jack Wilshere is one of the very few.
Often deployed in the holding role just behind the two strikers, but capable of playing in the centre and on both flanks of the midfield, his versatility has meant his future position is still up for debate. Arsene Wenger anticipates the youngster’s future career lies in the centre of midfield or behind the front-men. The only certainty being that he will without a doubt be one of England’s hottest properties in the near future.
Joining the Arsenal Academy in 2001 at the tender age of nine, this left-footed midfield prodigy has excelled and produced at every level in his short Arsenal career, from U-16s to U-18s, from the reserves to more recently the 2008/09 season which has seen him appear in the senior team. Notable performances include his debut against Blackburn in the league, where he became Arsenal’s youngest ever debutante (usurping Cesc Fabregas’ record) and a substitute appearance against Sheffield United in the Carling Cup where he scored his first senior goal in a 6-0 win. Most significantly was his appearance in the Youth Cup final first leg against Liverpool – a phenomenal display in which he scored a goal and provided two assists – it was strikingly clear that he was head and shoulders above the rest of the players of his age on display. This is further highlighted with the youngster’s international career where he has continually been playing above his age group from the age of 15. Currently playing in the U-19s, it is widely expected that Wilshere will make his debut in the U-21s in the coming season – he is at present 17-years-old.
He has been likened by those around him to Cesc Fabregas, Lionel Messi and more poignantly as the man currently serving as Head of Youth Development at Arsenal, former Gunners legend Liam Brady, a comparison that the Irishman will certainly take; “I’ve heard a few people say he reminds them of me and that’s a bit of a compliment to me, because the kid is so talented.” The buzz surrounding this young prodigy is an exciting prospect for England and Arsenal fans alike and the Arsenal manager is clearly aware of the talent he possesses. “He can play anywhere,” claims Wenger, “People tell me he’s a bit like Brady because he has good balance and a change of direction.” It is this ‘good balance’ and ‘change of direction’ that on watching him becomes remarkably apparent. “His dribbling technique is outstanding, and he has goals in his locker,” says Brady of the youngster. “I have to say, I thoroughly enjoy watching Jack play and have done ever since I first set eyes on him, when he was just nine.”
On first seeing him play, physically you are instantly reminded of a young Wayne Rooney – although short he has a fairly stocky build and good physical presence. It’s surprising with how he seems to cope physically in the senior Arsenal team with such ease for such a young boy. On watching him, he receives the ball with his back to a player, and will have turned and lost the opposing team player within seconds, his first touch always moving the ball into space. He has fantastic awareness of what’s around him with excellent precision passing (similar again to Fabregas). It’s rare in 90 minutes to see a player give the ball away or dispossessed so little. Great close ball control and technique, able to spot an incisive pass, and surprisingly for his age not afraid to put in a tackle, he sounds almost too good to be true. “It almost makes me scared when I see him play, he has massive potential.” declared Robin van Persie of the young Englishman.
The youngest of a very talented array of British youngsters at The Emirates, including Aaron Ramsey, Kieran Gibbs, Henri Lansbury and Gavin Hoyte to name a few, there is a tendency to put unnecessary pressure on potential England stars which has proven too much for some to handle in the past. Arsene Wenger however believes this boy has what it takes; “He’s a quiet boy, very determined, very focused. It’s always difficult when you’re the manager of a boy with talent like that, you’re always a bit cautious to put too much pressure on him and too high a level of expectation.” Brady reiterates the point, “I never like to go overboard about young players, because there is still a lot of developing to be done. They have to show they are prepared to listen and learn, to take on board what people tell them. But I’ve no worries about Jack on that score. You get the impression he wants to make the most of himself.”
A high level of expectation or not, pressure on potential stars is all part of the modern game, and separates the good players from the truly great. In truth when you watch this young man on the football pitch, he’s talent speaks for himself, and it’s a fair bet that he will be the heartbeat of a future England midfield.