Euro 2016: Wilshere fails to shine as England draw Slovakia
It was precisely the mental picture Jack Wilshere would have held two years ago. Him at the nexus of England’s midfield; pointing, manoeuvring, picking up the little pockets of space and being the tempo man of England’s European Championship campaign.
Then the scene changed utterly. Wilshere has played so little football in the last nine months that his start in the Massif Central last night took his England appearances ahead of those for Arsenal – four to three – for the season and starting a group game was actually against his expectations. “I’m ready. I’m ready,” he said in a player/journalist mixed zone just before this tournament, where the pain behind his scenes revealed what he knew: that others had accelerated ahead of him in the pecking order.
Then Roy Hodgson added another obstacle, when he decided as this campaign began that Wayne Rooney was to become one of his central midfielders of choice. All of this introduced an element of urgency to the Arsenal player when last night’s game began. The need for something substantial from him was ringing in his ears, as Rooney’s name was being chanted before half time.
Rooney is a forward for whom a place in midfield has been manufactured. Wilshere is a born midfielder. That essential difference between the two is evident in what the Arsenal player provides which the England captain does not: an easiness on the ball, an exquisite delivery and an intuitive sense of where and how those around him are moving.
The spaces he took up were most striking in the game’s early stages. Both Wilshere and Rooney move substantially but Wilshere has the eye for the pockets of space and the prime location.
He hugged the left touchline, from which he clipped the ball which Adam Lallana was sent free to cross for Jordan Henderson in the game’s early stages. His floated ball through the central channel for Jamie Vardy was weighted effortlessly.
There was great optimism in those early stages, just as there had been when England raced into the Russians in Marseilles as this campaign began. But just as in Marseilles the pace dropped and the well of imagination began to run dry.
When all the talking is done, the requirement now that this side is in a knock-out situation is the element of surprise in England’s football – something to catch the breath. That was certainly the requirement from Wilshere if he were to back up his proclamations of readiness and being ready to hammer on Hodgson’s door.
As the first half wore on, we saw him struggle to drive the tempo of the England effort. A left-footed layoff from a Lallana headed knock-down was sent straight to Viktor Pecovsky. An Eric Dier ball into his feet bounced straight off his shins. He found himself leaping to his feet to make ground and cover and he struggled – that being the element of this role where he does not have that Rooney industry.
This player started just one game in the last campaign – the last of Arsenal’s season – and had just 141 minutes of football last season as he recovered from a broken leg. When insisting he was ready for this after England’s moribund friendly with Portugal at Wembley, Wilshere also made the observation that his three appearances for Arsenal at the back of the season had been critical