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Jack Wilshere’s misunderstood talent

27 February 2011

Jack Wilshere's passing, not willingness to get 'stuck in', should be encouraged (Ronnie Macdonald)

It’s been fashionable to talk about Jack Wilshere this February, and rightly so. The young Englishman won his full England debut at the start of the month, and a week later put in a man of the match performance against Barcelona in the Champions League.

He’s given fans of English football plenty of hope, despite statistics suggesting that the state of grassroots football in England is scarily poor. But a couple of columns I’ve read over the past few days suggests to me his talent is to an extent misunderstood, or that certain members of the media have overvalued aspects of his game.

Jamie Redknapp and Piers Morgan are admittedly easy targets, but their opinions do reflect some of the attitudes of English fans and sections of the media.

Redknapp, previewing Arsenal’s Carling Cup final against Birmingham, sung Wilshere’s praises, but placed value on a certain facet of his game:

He is the one that has given [Arsenal] something different, some drive, that English mentality I still think you need to succeed. He knows, like Steven Gerrard, like John Terry, that for all your football, there is a time when you need to get stuck in, go through someone. He still glides effortlessly around the pitch and still plays those lovely little one-two’s, but he is more than ready to have a tear-up!

Piers Morgan, a man who reflects general ignorance, also provides his thoughts on Wilshere’s talent in his Mail on Sunday column. Like Redknapp, he highlights Wilshere’s ability and willingness to put his foot into a tackle:

I watched Wilshere against Birmingham at the Emirates… the whole game revolved around him. Wilshere threaded a brilliant ball through to Marouane Chamakh to win the match in the second half. And then he got himself sent off in the last minute of injury-time for a passionate but reckless tackle on Nikola Zigic. It summed him up perfectly to me – wondrous skill coupled with unrelenting determination, steel and ferocity.

Both men share the belief that Wilshere’s ability to get ‘stuck in’ makes his a better player. It’s a typically English throwaway opinion; we value passion over anything else.

Redknapp claims that the ability to “go through someone” is part of the “English mentality you need to succeed.” It’s an absolutely ridiculous comment; the English national football team has won nothing for nearly 45 years, and it’s in part because we’ve developed the traditional hardman rather than the more successful continental technician. The likes of Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Wesley Sneijder and Kaka have all won Champions Leagues or World Cups in recent years; none of them required the ability to get “stuck in” to succeed. No one doubts their determination to win.

For some bizarre reason, Morgan chooses to glorify Wilshere’s two-footed tackle on Nikola Zigic earlier this season, and sees it as a by-product of his “passion.” Only a week and a half ago English pundits condemned Mathieu Flamini for his tackle on Vedran Corluka; labelled “horrendous” by Harry Redknapp. No one excused Flamini for showing determination.

Reckless tackles is something that needs to be coaxed out of Wilshere’s game, rather than kept in. Steven Gerrard is a far better player now that he has (largely) eradicated his tendency to jump into tackles dangerously. Yet Redknapp and Morgan feel the need to encourage this element in Wilshere; before long he’ll be a hero for breaking an opponent’s leg – an act of courage even!

Wilshere’s talent is in his fantastic range of passing and ability to dictate the pace of a game. Take Arsenal’s match against Stoke in midweek, where he completed an incredible 96 passes:

Whilst it’s easier to control a match against Stoke than other teams given the possession they surrender, the chalkboard shows great control over the midfield and an ability to play the ball in and into the final third (which could be working on given the 14 unsuccessful passes). Compare this to Paul Scholes, who showed a marvellous range of passing against Man City and Blackpool (above), and you can see the type of player Wilshere should aspire to become. He certainly has the passing ability. I also choose Paul Scholes because he’s famed for his inability to tackle, but is rightly admired for his other attributes. Why should the reckless edge to Wilshere’s game be encouraged?

Wilshere is a fantastic passer of the ball, and still has time and the potential to develop this side to his game. What we mustn’t do is glorify and hail his keenness to compete in a tackle, which has brought him trouble in the past. He must curb and harness this, and continue to work on his main strengths.

Note: As ever, Guardian Chalkboards don’t seem to like WordPress, so any links will not work.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Ben permalink
    1 March 2011 3:03 am

    A good read as usual, Omar.

    From what I know about Jack Wilshere and his personality (through reading his tweets, hearing pundits talk about his life off the pitch, seeing the news about him being involved in a fight outside a nightclub which saw him arrested and through mutual friends) he seems to be quite a feisty character. However as you rightly say his game is totally not like that at all. Morgan and Redknapp do try and make him sound like the next Paul Scholes kind of player but when watching him on the ball he seems to be more of an Iniesta.

    I think it was Arsene Wenger who compared him to the Spanish, saying he has Spanish talent and an English heart but since when did having an English heart mean you have to be a hard tackler? Is his ability to go hard into a tackle the reason why English fans should get excited about him?

    You only need to have watched the World Cup final to know the answer to that- Spain’s technical team with no hard tackling type players in it at all (ok Busquets is a holding midfielder, but a footballing one at that) beating Holland, a side full of hard-men. I’m not saying there is no room for them in the game, but Jack Wilshere is certainly not one.

    • 1 March 2011 9:06 am

      Cheers Ben, and spot on.

      There’s no point wasting your energy in a challenge that is 80:20 in the favour of your opponent, yet that seems to be encouraged here. More often than not it’ll result in a foul and quite often needless injuries too.


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