England face Brazil tonight. For some such as Steven Gerrard, it will probably be the last time they do so. I am not sure he will be around in 2014 for the next potential match between the two nations. Ashley Cole might be in the same boat and as much as we may despise the way he left the club as well as playing for Chelsea, it is churlish not to acknowledge that his elevation to one of country’s best ever left backs. Tonight he reaches his 100th cap and congratulations are due to him on that feat.
The longer the national team goes without success, the more expectation is placed on young players. That England do not possess enough natural talent is a lamented but fundamental flaw in the quest to reach the elevated heights of World Cup semi-finals and beyond. Each generation finds its own heroes or more often than not, the singular. Some are self-proclaimed, Sven Goran Eriksson’s charges at the turn of this century held the belief that they were the country’s Golden Generation. That belief proved to be founded on Fool’s Gold. Since then, toil has replaced skill; graft is never an attribute to underestimate but it can only get you so far in tournament football. You need luck or a good fixer to take you through to the final stages.
England don’t want to follow Tina Turner’s advice, we do want another hero. To the rest of the world, it is easy to point to Wayne Rooney; 27 years old, 78 caps and 32 goals. It would be a surprise to if he ended his international career shy of the records of Peter Shilton and Sir Bobby Charlton, the nation’s leading cap and goalscorers. To some of us though he will never be a hero, his reputation tarnished by events off the pitch and suspect camera work. Another will step into that role and then another if the next choice fails.
At Arsenal there are three potentials for that role, the most likely of which makes his return to the starting line-up for his country tonight. Jack Wilshere will face Brazil on the pitch; the weight of expectation has transferred to the Arsenal midfielder and still leaves Rooney with an incredible bulk.
Steven Gerrard tried to put some perspective on Wilshere’s situation,
I think it’s vital we don’t all put too much pressure on him [Wilshere], and there’s not too much expectation. One man can’t carry a nation on his own. He needs other players to help. I can only tell him to try and keep his feet on the ground and try and enjoy it. His career will be full of ups and downs, and I think he has the mentality to handle it.
These players, these young players with huge potential, they have to go out and prove it in big games in the Premier League, Champions League and international level, that they’re good enough to compete against other world-class players. Maybe, if they do, the tag world-class can be given out. But I don’t like it being given out to young players.
It is a fair point to make, young players are rarely world-class but it is at once, an objective and subjective term. The cynical amongst us point out that the paucity of talent around the globe means that there is a need for such declarations but the problem is not necessarily that the term is used too freely but like everything else in this world, it is used cheaply, without longevity attached to it. World-Class is also a reflection of the state of the game; when the shining lights are dimmed by the constant glare, the exceptional standout.
Wilshere is an exceptional player in the Premier League, Liam Brady observed,
We were all a bit nervous – it was 18 months (out injured) – but he has improved with every game and his performance against Liverpool was outstanding…I think he is leading the (Arsenal) team now, his pace is deceptive. He has a funny running style but he drifts past players, and he’s only 22 (sic), he’s only going to get better.
He has proven he can stand toe-to-toe with the best that European club football has to offer and be unbowed. Now, he has international football as the last hurdle to jump and I am certain he will. There is no doubt he is a driving force in the Arsenal midfield, he has areas he can work on but there seems to be no willingness on his part to settle for what he has; that’s a positive sign, one that the manager and coaching staff will appreciate. More importantly, having emerged through the youth ranks, he is as close to one of us as the Premier League can offer. No more walking from the North Bank to the pitch will there be but a product of the club and its academy is something which we can all relate to.
Gerrard refers to the ups and downs; Wilshere has already been there. Wembley cup final despair, losing more than a season to injury? That covers it off in one so young. His return to the Arsenal fray has shown him strong enough mentally to handle the setbacks, understanding the recovery process is not just kicking the ball for the first time in anger and when young footballers are often castigated for stupidity, there has been a maturity in his progress.
Brady put Wilshere into a historical context for English football,
I think he will be up there with the very, very skilful creative English players. In my time it was Glenn Hoddle, (Paul) Gascoigne came after that and then (Wayne) Rooney and I think Wilshere will be in that mix.
Yes Neymar, England are a one-man team but it isn’t Wayne Rooney.