Jack Wilshere is determined to play for England at this summer's European Under-21 Championship, insisting: "I will never say no to my country."
The Under-21s head coach, Stuart Pearce, defied opposition from Wilshere's club manager at Arsenal, Arsène Wenger, by selecting the player in his provisional 40-man squad for next month's finals in Denmark. Wenger is adamant Wilshere should not play in the tournament, having become part of England's senior set-up, amid fears the 19-year-old may suffer burnout after a season during which he has already played 52 times for club and country.
But Wilshere has no intention of asking for a rest, telling 4-4-2 magazine: "This summer, if I'm selected, I'll play for the Under-21s. It's down to Arsène Wenger, [the England manager] Fabio Capello and Stuart Pearce, but I will never say no to my country."
Wilshere is certain to make Pearce's final 23, along with the Liverpool striker Andy Carroll, who was another controversial selection. However, even with those two on board, Pearce claims his Under-21 Championship squad will be weaker than the one which reached the final in Sweden two years ago, which included players such as Joe Hart, James Milner, Adam Johnson and Theo Walcott.
Never before have any England side travelled to a tournament with a £35m player – Carroll – in their ranks, while Wilshere has just been crowned the Professional Footballers' Association Young Player of the Year.
"I personally think the last squad that I took was extremely strong," Pearce said. "I'm not sure this squad is as strong as that. There are some great players who have been through the Under-21s and a mark of it probably is the fact that they've made that transition into the senior team. If we come back with the trophy, I'll probably turn around and say I was wrong."
England will be expected to reach the final at the very least in a competition missing virtually every other big nation apart from Spain. Pearce's greatest headache could be integrating Wilshere and Carroll back into his team. By the time the tournament kicks off, Wilshere will not have played for the Under-21s for eight months, while Carroll's last cap at youth level came in March last year.
Both are likely to be in the senior squad for the Euro 2012 qualifier against Switzerland on 4 June, meaning they would not play a part in the Under-21s' final pre-tournament friendly against Norway 24 hours later. But Pearce said: "Under-21 football chops and changes quite a bit. We've got 40 individuals and only one is uncapped. It shows the turnaround."