The memories stir with the headlines. England, World Cup, The Hope Of A Nation Rests On A Metatarsal; it’s all very familiar. Indeed, reading reports of Jack’s hairline fracture, playing through gritted teeth, the bulldog spirit if you like; memories do indeed come flooding back. Jack Wilshere is Foffo Spearjig: he felt nowt.
Were he several decades older, I am sure that Wilshere would have played through an FA Cup Final with every bone in his body broken making Bert Trautmann’s heroics seem like attention seeking. Older than that and he would have been the band member on The Titanic who played on and berated passengers for losing their calm. The Bulldog spirit is not some psychological condition induced by nationality, it is Jack Wilshere’s blood and sweat, collected and bottled by faeries in Albion’s fields. There are no tears because he is too hard.
And therein seems to be the perceived problem: Jack’s pain threshold is apparently too high, he is too heroic. It is easy to criticise for playing on through pain but I think the bigger issue is that we didn’t want him to play on through pain for England in a meaningless friendly. Had it been an Arsenal match, ire would not have been raised at the player for this but at the culprit; Daniel Agger is no doubt concerned by an online petition which wants someone to tell him off for being a naughty boy.
For Arsenal, the bigger issue is the impact on the squad. It is ludicrous to claim that Wilshere’s form is such that he won’t be missed whilst he is out. He will; form is transient and capable of changing within the course of a game let alone six weeks. That is before you consider the impact on the player(s) drafted in to replace him; it means fewer opportunities to compensate for other injuries if they occur. Hopes in some quarters that Aaron Ramsey’s return will more than make up for this miss the point. He is still talking in terms of weeks about his recovery and match fitness, which Wilshere has, will take longer to recover beyond that.
Arsène is not down to his last midfielder, any combination of Rosicky, Flamini, Gnabry and Oxlade-Chamberlain can compensate in central midfield or on the right whilst there is an argument that with a variation on formation, Podolski can be accommodated to extend options. The injury is just something which should have been avoided in the first place and for that Roy Hodgson must shoulder some of the blame; that is after all the name of the game.
Marked out as an international week, Hodgson and his employers are under no obligation to play a match for footballing reasons. Indeed, footballing reasons provide the best rationale for not playing this week with the season beginning with the League Cup final, the FA Cup Quarter-Finals, Champions and Europa League knockout phases in full flow, alongside the Premier League. In short, a number of Hodgson’s squad are playing twice each week between now and the end of the season. A week of training at St George’s Park would have been more beneficial, certainly better for the players than a friendly which had no value beyond confirming the paucity of England’s performance.
Arguably the cause of international football as a product would be better served by missing a friendly against the Danes than playing the match such has the condemnation of England been. The problem is that the Football Association are so in hock over Wembley’s renovation that even in a World Cup year, their most financially rewarding spell, that they have to raise the revenues somehow. A crowd of 65k suggests it has been relatively successful in that respect. Reports suggest their profit margins are going be hit with Arsenal preparing to charge them two month’s of the player’s salary. The club bean counters will be lifted by that, every cloud has a silver lining seems to be true.
At a time when the governing bodies and national associations criticise the clubs for the number of games they play, for putting profits before player health, injuries to high-profile players in meaningless friendlies condemn them with their own words. The problem is an unwillingness on anyone’s part to find a solution which avoids a week during the season where internationals can scupper challenges for silverware. It isn’t beyond the wit of man to do so; with commercial and broadcast revenues continuing to rise, the time is ripe for a fundamental overview of the game in such a way that protects that aspect as a base point whilst enhancing the ‘product’ for sale. Self-interest in protecting the status quo of twenty top-flight teams may be holding back the game as a whole.