Jack Wilshere is injured again. And with that news, Arsenal fans everywhere hold their breath. Because hindsight says that a Wilshere injury is rarely as simple as the headline diagnosis. Arsene Wenger says “inflamed ankle”. He mentions three or four weeks. But with each fresh setback, and each extended absence, fans of both the Gunners and the England national team must start to wonder if we will ever see a fully-fit, consistently-played Jack Wilshere.
This isn’t an article intended to rile, or a headline eying a thousand clicks. It is one person wondering out loud what goes through the head of many when we hear “Wilshere” and “injured” in the same sentence.
Arsenal fans may tell me I am overreacting. They may say I know nothing about the game or the boy who is now a man. But I do know he is exceptionally talented. He shows it in every game he plays, from being the only player who refused to give up against Bradford City in this season’s League Cup, to his man-of-the-match performance against Brazil in February. And perhaps most notably as a 19-year-old against Barcelona, his stats only bettered by Xavi and Iniesta, his performance on a par with those talked of as the very best.
His showings this season have suggested he is making up for lost time. After 14 months out with a persistent ankle and latterly knee problem, he was the player to pin hopes on, whether your allegiance was red or white. And if it was neither, you probably wondered what all the fuss was about…until you watched him play.
To blame mismanagement for an injury would be wrong. An injury is a chance occurrence. And yet, Wilshere could have been managed better. There is no doubt of that.
He could have been part of a team rather than its fulcrum. This season especially, after so long out, he could have played less. He wouldn’t have liked it. But his body may have said otherwise.
Having made 49 appearances in his breakthrough season there is a call, however easily dismissed, that he has played too much too young. As combative as he is, as box-to-box, with such a style comes risk.
The best managers, those hailed as knowing how to handle youth – they rarely throw a teenager in at the deep-end; not for the whole race. They give them experience, they manage them, and with it comes years of rewards.
Jack Wilshere has everything to be a true great. Perhaps most importantly, he has time.
In a sport where the here-and-now is crucial, where the next result is more important than the next five years, it is no surprise that Wilshere is overplayed.
But he is only 21. And his body is telling him something. Surely it is better to listen now, if we want any chance of replacing something that happened nearly 50 years ago with something that happens in our lifetime.