at the Union Buildings in Pretoria
London – Jack Wilshere is fully aware of the glare. His vision rarely lets him down. When he returned after 17 months out with serious injury, he could detect a nation desperate to see him produce football like Lionel Messi.
That was in November and he has steadily improved until, on Wednesday at Wembley, as England beat Brazil for the first time in 23 years, he showed the world what Arsenal fans already realised.
Wilshere is back at full tilt, back to the Jack who boxed Barcelona in the Champions League two years ago, and perhaps the elusive keystone for a national team in need of regular inspiration.
“We should stick him in a box, let him develop quietly and bring him out for special occasions,” said Gareth Southgate, who not so long ago had an official FA role in the development of elite footballers.
Wilshere accepts the hype and is comfortable with it. Well schooled in the Arsenal academy, he is aware, as is Messi, that in real life one man cannot carry a team.
But he believes England’s midfield can be a source of strength for Roy Hodgson if the right formation is deployed and certain players avoid injury.
“I don’t think one player can ever win a World Cup for a nation,” said Wilshere. “We’ve got Steven Gerrard, still one of the best midfielders in the world, and Frank Lampard.
“It’s great having them alongside me. I used to come to Wembley to watch them, so to play with them is a dream come true. Ten years at the top is something I want to do, so I look up to those two.
“Stevie is probably the fittest guy in the team and Lamps got a great goal and has been doing that for years, scoring important goals. He keeps doing it. We’ve got good young players as well.
“If we get that side right, we can dominate a midfield and we showed that against Brazil. We defended well and once we got the chance to go forward, we broke really well.
“We work hard on tactics. That’s what Roy does, he’s great at that. He gets us working well defensively and going forward.”
The exciting aspect for Hodgson is the hint that Wilshere may coax the best from Wayne Rooney and Theo Walcott.
Captain Gerrard, who said it was “scary” how good Wilshere could be, sacrificed his own free-wheeling tendencies to allow the 21-year-old to dictate the tempo and make the play.
There are times when he resembles Paul Gascoigne: gliding through midfield, riding tackles with desire in his eyes and sometimes lunging impetuously into tackles best avoided.
But Wilshere can be more like England’s version of Xavi; the team’s heartbeat. He has the vision and the technique.
Back in November, in an interview with Sportsmail, Wilshere said: “People say, ‘Jack this, Jack that, he’s the only one who can do this’, (but) I think if you look deeper into the squad you can find players who can compete technically with the best in the world.”
At the time, he mentioned Tom Cleverley, also quietly effective at Wembley on Wednesday, opening spaces for others, aware of his duties, and never over-complicating anything in an effort to catch the eye.
In the afterglow of a win against Brazil, it all seems so simple but where do England land if they lose Wilshere again? English gems like him are increasingly rare.
For Wilshere, this campaign is shaping like his breakthrough season in 2010-11, when Arsenal played twice against Barca and he impressed for England in Wales. Against his better judgment, Arsene Wenger kept playing him. So did Fabio Capello and an ankle gave way under the strain, then again in his haste to return. Hence Southgate’s safety-box theory.
“When you’re playing well and you’re in the national team, there are always going to be high expectations,” said Wilshere.
“You have to deal with that. It was just great to be back out there after so long out.” – Daily Mail