England v Scotland: Arsenal midfielder Jack Wilshere anxious to make up for lost time - beginning tonight at Wembley
Persistent injury problems mean the Arsenal midfielder has just seven caps to his name despite making his debut in 2010
In a moment of reflection, Jack Wilshere said that by his own estimation the injuries and operations of the past two years had cost him the opportunity to win 25 caps. As it stands he has just seven and of those only two in the past 24 months, which for most 21-year-olds would be no mean achievement but not for one of English football's shining hopes.
When he arrived at St George's Park at the weekend, Wilshere tweeted a picture of his two latest caps – won against Sweden and Brazil last season – which were waiting for him on the bed of his hotel room. Today he said that he believed his injury problems, culminating in the ankle operation at the end of last season, were behind him although, he added, he could take nothing for granted.
When the Arsenal midfielder added the caveat that he hoped he would be selected come the next two qualifiers against Moldova and Ukraine in September, Steven Gerrard, alongside him, raised his eyes and muttered, "You'll be in". It is no exaggeration to say that a lot is riding on the upward development of Wilshere for England and Gerrard as good as anointed him his successor as captain one day.
Gerrard first made Wilshere's acquaintance on the occasion of the latter's first Premier League start for Arsenal, three years ago tomorrow. They met at Anfield on the first day of the 2010-2011 season and it did not take long on that occasion for Gerrard to recognise that he had a young contender in midfield.
Wilshere played throughout that season for Arsenal and it was not until the summer in the Euro 2012 qualifier against Switzerland at Wembley in June that his problems began.
His latest operation was described as more of a maintenance job on his troublesome ankle rather than another problem to add to the stress fracture in the same part of his body that began the sequence of problems in June 2011.
"I just want to be fit and I want to play in those qualifiers," Wilshere said. "I've yet to play in a World Cup qualifier and it's frustrating because every time one comes around I seem to pick up a little knock. We've got four big qualifiers coming up now and hopefully I can stay fit for them.
"It [being injured] is not a good experience. It's frustrating not being involved. I want to help my team-mates and do what I can but I watch every game like a fan and want us to do well. I'm like any Englishman. I haven't contributed anything to this qualifying campaign and I'm anxious to do so. We've got four big ones coming up and I want to be involved in them."
Together Gerrard and Wilshere have spent just 103 minutes on the pitch for England: 13 minutes against Sweden in November when Wilshere came on as a substitute and then the full game in the win over Brazil in February. It was Wilshere's ball through to Theo Walcott that made the chance from which Wayne Rooney eventually scored against Brazil and the Arsenal man was the outstanding player that night.
When he has played, Wilshere has stood out. He did so in that game against Switzerland in June 2011, when England had to fight back from two goals down. That was a few months after his performances against Barcelona in the Champions League for Arsenal in which he really excelled at the Emirates. It has been a long, hard road since then.
"I think I'm ready now," he said. "I've had a full pre-season, the first one I've had in three years and if you ask any player – if you miss pre-season you are playing catch-up all season. I've had a full pre-season and I'm ready.
"You never know what's round the corner. Anything can happen in any game so I can't say, 'Yeah, I'm going to be here next month'. As it has been, I've only had seven hours [playing time for England] and it's been in little dribs and drabs. I've never really had a run for England or a partnership with anyone so, hopefully, now I can get that.
"I added up that if I was fit I would have had about 25 caps by now, so that is a lot of games to miss out on. I missed out on the Euros, which was disappointing, so, hopefully, I can get a little run going."
Gerrard as good as confirmed that this would be his last season with England, with the prospect of a World Cup finals at the end of it. When the England squad reconvenes for the friendly on 13 August next year, there is a good chance that Frank Lampard will also have retired from international football and possibly even Ashley Cole and Michael Carrick too.
In an England team in which change has been slow, there will be no option but to move on after the summer, especially if they fail to qualify for the World Cup. Gerrard offered a glowing endorsement of Wilshere when he was asked if the Arsenal player could one day be an England captain.
"His [Wilshere's] quality, his example in training every day, he seems a level-headed kid, he wants to learn, he loves England, he's going to be around the top for a long, long time," Gerrard said. "He ticks a lot of boxes when it comes down to other players following his lead. Obviously, I'm really paranoid about putting too much pressure on any player, especially Jack, but he certainly has the quality to do that.
"As for the injuries, I've been in a similar position. I missed a World Cup [in 2002]. I've missed 20-odd caps. There is nothing for him to worry about – it's a long career ahead of him. I'm sure when he gets to my age he will be sitting in my position with the armband and you'll be talking about another 100-cap player. He is that good so there is nothing for him to worry, about what he missed – it's all about keeping our fingers crossed and looking forward to him playing."
As Gerrard spoke, Wilshere sat alongside him, with a bashful smile. It really is all there for the man from Arsenal if he can rely upon his body to carry him through. If it does not work out, then the next few years for England could be bleak without him.
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