On 16th of February 2011, a 19 years-old Jack Wilshere produced his best performance in an Arsenal shirt, to date.
He took on a midfield trio of Sergio Busquets, Xavi and Andrés Iniesta and showed a fantastic mix of bravery, trickery and maturity which prompted every media outlet to praise the Arsenal academy product.
The BBC wrote how “Jack Wilshere was the symbol of Arsenal’s development since the teams last met with a performance of composure that made a nonsense of his tender teenage years”, while Arseblog wrote that “Last night Jack was up against Xavi, Iniesta and Busquets and was absolutely fantastic. He was as calm as you like when he had it, worked hard to deny them space when they were in possession, and he put in a serious shift in midfield. When you consider this is his first full season and that he’s just gone 19 it was remarkable”
He was hard as nail in closing down Barcelona players in our defensive third, alongside Alex Song, and sensationally inspired with the ball at his feet, combining great vision and efficient distribution; his famous “burst of pace” was used intelligently and the way he distributed the play was impressive, especially at such young age.
That was everything you can desire from a box-to-box midfielder in terms of approach and execution, with a generous pinch of selfless attitude that served the team very well.
Unfortunately, Jack Wilshere could not really build on that fantastic night and saw his career stall, mainly because of some freak injuries that hit him at the worst possible times; despite producing moments of true brilliance here and there, the Englishman could not step one level above and cement his presence in the Arsenal starting XI and slowly lost his way to the very top.
He went from being the rising star of the team, the player to build a whole team around – especially when Cesc Fàbregas left – to a peripheral figure and then on the verge of leaving.
Surely injuries played a big part in denying him the success he was promised but we should not deny the fact that Jack Wilshere didn’t develop since that famous night; he just turned 26 and he’s playing the same exact football he was playing eight years ago, without having the same mobility and sharpness.
Although finding Paul Scholes’ comments utterly outrageous back in 2014, when the former Manchester United players said that “Wilshere does not look any better player now than when he was 17”, I see now that he had a point.
I hate to admit it but Paul Scholes was right back then and he still is, Jack Wilshere hasn’t become the player we thought he could be.
Having just turned 26, the midfielder is hitting his peak years and could still become an important figure at the Arsenal but he reached a point where he must make a big decision about his future.
We’ve all heard about the new contract being offered to him, which is rumoured to include lower wages and fitness-related incentives, and we also heard how reluctant he is to sign the new deal.
Of course, if compared to Mesut Özil’s £ 350k-per-week new contract or the £200k-per-week deal offered to Aaron Ramsey, the £ 80k + bonuses proposed to Jack Wilshere looks meagre – perhaps disrespectful for some Gooners.
The painful truth is that at present Jack Wilshere is an excellent back-up option, nothing more than that; he didn’t do anything that could warrant a pay-rise or a different status within the team but has all the qualities to make up for the time he lost and become the central figure he was meant to be.
His drive, his touch and his personality – when wisely channelled – are assets to the team and the sight of him leading the operations from the centre stage isn’t unrealistic at all, it’s simply not the good time yet.
Jack Wilshere has come a long way since his half-successful loan stint at Bournemouth and has just completed the first part of his comeback – proving he can still play for the Arsenal; he accepted his status of squad-player and slowly climbed up the pecking order through some decent performances in the early stages of the Europa League.
He won back the trust of his manager and team-mates, made his way back on the map and proved that Jack Wilshere has a future.
It’s only half of his mission, though, and considering that what he achieved this season is enough would be his biggest mistake; his latest outings have shown that he still has some way to go before being fully-fit to cope with a 50+ games season and his bad temper resurfaced again, right when his legs became heavier and he lost his game.
In recent week he made the front pages for his unnecessary fights, petty behaviour and immature displays rather than his football – feeding his detractors with plenty of arguments to call him out.
Instead of looking up at Aaron Ramsey’s new contract, Jack Wilshere should look at his teammate and get some inspiration about hitting the bottom and rise up: although I’m not a big fan of the Welshman, he worked his socks off while his own fans were booing him and grabbed his luck by the neck.
At some point he looked lost, many thought he might never make it at the Club after the injury and a long stride of indifferent outings but he kept going and kept working – his mouth shut and his head down.
I’m still among his critics but I take my hat off to the way Aaron Ramsey bounced back from an horrendous injury, several setbacks on his way to full recovery and his own fans turning on him.
Jack Wilshere should sign the new deal, follow the example set by Aaron Ramsey and make a name for himself at the Arsenal.
For the little I know about football, he could be the first name on the team-sheet next August already, as it only takes one injury or suspension to get the chance that can change your career.
Alternatively, he can leave, join a mid-table Club and embrace mediocrity, like Theo Walcott did.
He could still amass Premier League appearances and good wages, perhaps keep his place in the England team but would surely end up asking himself “What if?”.
I, for one, would not like to leave with the regrets of what could have been.