WHETHER he likes to admit it or not, Jack Wilshere is standing at the crossroads of his career. Yes, at just 22.
And that’s because, in the five years since he elbowed his way into the Arsenal team, he has spent considerably more than two of them on the sidelines injured.
That’s right. He has missed nearly 119 weeks of his professional life with a succession of problems, predominantly to his ankles. These problems have now placed a formidable question mark against his future at the highest level.
The fact is Wilshere gets injured too often and much of the time it is self inflicted. His latest, should he need surgery, means he won’t play again until March.
In the meantime, while the club decides whether he needs another operation, it may give Wilshere time to reflect whether he can come to terms with these set-backs. It also gives him time and space to realise he must contain an explosive temperament that draws him into confrontation too often.
That latest flare-up against Manchester United should have seen him sent off. That kind of behaviour has been all too frequent in his career, and threatens to overshadow his undoubted ability.
It means players come looking for him, because mixed up in Wilshere’s ability to pass the ball beautifully is a spiteful streak that he cannot contain. To be fair to him, because he is so good at receiving the ball under pressure, he takes more tackles fair and foul than most players.
The list of injuries to both right and left feet is incredible, It is worth studying:
- October 24 2009, Ankle – until Dec 2 (five and a half weeks)
- Jan 8 2010, Hamstring – until Feb 9 (four and a half weeks)
- November 14 2010, Back – until Nov 23 (10 days)
- August 1 2011 , Ankle – until Oct 27 2012 (65 weeks)
- February 9 2013, Hip – until Feb 16 (1 week)
- March 3 2013, Ankle – until April 13 (four and a half weeks)
- May 20 2013, Ankle surgery – until July 4 (six and a half weeks)
- October 31 2013 – Ankle – until November 10 (10 days).
- Jan 24 2014, Ankle – until Feb 8 (two weeks)
- March 5 2014, Ankle – until May 11 (nine weeks)
- October 26 2014, Ankle/illness – until Nov 9 (two weeks)
- November 22 2014, Ankle – Up to four months (16 weeks).
Total: 119 weeks’ injured
If he continues hurting himself so seriously, it may only be a question of time before he is no longer able to withstand the kind of challenges that are part and parcel of the Barclays Premier League.
Players will target him more than they do already because he is such an important playmaker for Arsenal and England.
The right ankle appears to be the weaker one. His latest problem is to his left ankle, but both are consistently the reason for him breaking down so much. There is a feeling that he has never fully recovered from his first ankle fracture three years ago, and now is more vulnerable than ever to the kind of football Arsenal demand from their players.
As always with Arsene Wenger, that is based on pace and power. It’s brilliant when it comes off, but it’s inevitably and increasingly stressful on the legs. And Wilshere’s ankles are vulnerable. His own frustration at never really knowing whether he will get through a full 90 minutes adds to his lack of self control.
His willingness to fight his colleagues’ battles are laudable enough, but too often he becomes involved in the kind of skirmish that sees opponents seeking retaliation.
The word is about now. Stop Arsenal, or England, for that matter, and you win the game. So Wilshere becomes the target, and it could end his career long before he has made a sufficient impact.
Who can forget the ball he played in for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to score against Scotland, or the way he dominated the midfield in the second half? It was a tantalising glimpse of what he can do when he plays successfully at the point of the diamond formation, but he is now paying the price.
Paddy McNair made certain he did not run the game against United last week. His clumsy challenge removed Wilshere from the action, and Arsenal lost their way.
Now, perhaps, it’s time for him to come to terms with the kind of player he is; to stop becoming involved in the heat and smoke of the battle, stand off from it and play.
If he cannot do that, Jack Wilshere may discover that there’s heartbreak among the anthems of acclaim.
PICTURE COURTESY OF: Ronnie MacDonald