To give Jack Wilshere his due, he was offered the opportunity to get out of answering the kind of question that most public people would bat away in an instant: in his short but eventful career, what was the greatest regret he harboured? The man from the Football Association said he did not have to go there. “I’ll answer it,” Wilshere said, “but I need to think.”
A moment passed while Wilshere considered his options. Someone suggested, to break the tension, that it was not signing for West Ham. When Wilshere finally answered, it was to address the issue that has followed him around like the bad smell. “It’s tough, tough. Probably being caught smoking because I’ve said it before and some people don’t believe me, but I’m not a smoker. I don’t smoke. It was a mistake I made on a night out. I definitely regret it. I made the same mistake twice. I’m not a smoker. So it’s probably that one.”
The smoking jars because, although it is not the worst offence committed by a professional sportsman, it was made more than once – three times if you include the ill-advised picture with a shisha pipe. Wilshere is hurt by the accusation that he is a smoker. The more damaging aspect, many would contend, is that he failed to learn his lesson the first time.
Either way, it is good to see one of the brightest young talents in English football telling us that his fitness is such that he wished the season was not about to end with tomorrow’s Euro 2016 qualifier against Slovenia in Ljubljana. Wilshere has come back from another ankle injury, this time ligament damage caused by a tackle by Manchester United’s Paddy McNair and, having had limited playing time with Arsenal this season, is enjoying being at the heart of Roy Hodgson’s plans.
There is no doubt that the England manager rates him highly and Wilshere was one of the few against the Republic of Ireland who played near to his potential. He is eager to point out that the latest ankle injury, which ruled him out from late November to May, was “straightforward, quite common”, and different from the one that meant he missed the entire 2011-12 season.
There have been no problems since he returned and no pain. “My first injury was different: it was a stress fracture in my right ankle and it did cause me a few problems after – the screws irritated me. In this one, I’ve got nothing. I had the wire taken out. I came back for the Crystal Palace game [in February, as an unused substitute] and then I got a cyst around it. They decided to take it out. It took four weeks and I’m fine.”
Premier League end of term report
Premier League end of term report
1/20 Arsenal - B
Progress through the year: European studies remain a disappointment but marked improvement in English classes, albeit after initially sloppy work meant top of the class was no longer attainable.
Specific areas that need improvement: In front of goal. A side that was once freescoring now frequently struggles to put away chances with Olivier Giroud the serial offender.
Star pupil: Francis Coquelin. Something of a late developer but has become a key figure in the side’s new defensive assurance since November.
Must do better: Aaron Ramsey. After some real progress last year has frequently flattered to deceive this time around – and needs to curb his tendency to show off in class.
Don’t come back next term: Theo Walcott. Little discernible improvement in his work over the last few years. Frequently looks lost in class. A summer move away might benefit all parties.
Perfect new arrivals: Monaco duo Geoffrey Kondogbia and Aymen Abdennour
2/20 Aston Villa - F for Paul Lambert, B for Tim Sherwood
Progress through the year: No longer the supply teacher, headmaster Tim Sherwood has shaken up Paul Lambert’s moribund team, bringing Christian Benteke back to life, and a Cup final awaits.
Specific areas that need improvement: To build on his bright start, Sherwood requires new players, notably a left-back, central midfielder and striker.
Star pupil: Fabian Delph. Priceless drive and dynamism; his new deal in January was pivotal
Must do better: Charles N’Zogbia. Flashes of quality under Sherwood but still an underachiever
Don’t come back next term: Andreas Weimann. Slipped down pecking order with Jack Grealish’s emergence
Perfect new arrival: Benteke staying would be Villa’s best business this summer
3/20 Burnley - B
Progress through the year: We are very sad that Burnley will be leaving us at the end of term, nobody could have tried harder. What they lacked was quality.
Specific areas that need improvement: Burnley’s final 11 games saw them score two goals. Given that they conceded only nine in those matches, it is the reason they were relegated.
Star Pupil: Dean Marney: His cruciate ligament injury in February deprived his side of their best midfielder and captain.
Must do better: Lukas Jutkiewicz: The striker cost £1.5m from Middlesbrough (a lot for Burnley). He did not manage a single goal.
Don’t come back next term: Danny Ings: His contract is up, although many at Turf Moor doubt he is good enough for Liverpool.
Perfect new arrivals: Daryl Murphy: Scored 27 times for Ipswich and Burnley will need firepower to replace Ings.
4/20 Chelsea - A
Progress through the year: Deservedly top of the form, after shrewd summer recruiting, but triumph tarnished by increasing boorishness of Jose Mourinho. European failure exposed limitations.
Specific areas that need improvement: More depth so Mourinho can rest key players
Star pupil: Eden Hazard. Even when team became functional he provided style as well as penetration
Must do better: Juan Cuadrado. Quiet start, but should be settled next season, so no excuses.
Don’t come back next term: Filipe Luis. Move not worked out, and even Chelsea don’t need a £16m reserve.
Perfect new arrival: For one of the youth players to become a regular.
5/20 Crystal Palace - D until Christmas, then B
Progress through the year: Disruption caused by Tony Pulis’s untimely departure made life difficult for Neil Warnock, who left after Boxing Day. Alan Pardew brought about outstanding transformation.
Specific areas that need improvement: Still too few clean sheets despite goalkeeping heroics and Scott Dann’s solidity. More consistency from the flair players.
Star pupil: Dann edges it but needed better support.
Must do better: Fraizer Campbell. Injured recently but too few goals beforehand.
Don’t come back next term: Jerome Thomas, Paddy McCarthy, Adrian Mariappa, Yaya Sanogo.
Perfect new arrivals: Kieran Trippier (Burnley), Charlie Austin (QPR).
6/20 Everton - B
Progress through the year: Minimal. Until the club’s elimination from the Europa League, Everton had no momentum. It was April when they first won back-to-back league matches.
Specific areas that need improvement: The midfield that drove Everton to fifth place last May seems stale and tired.
Star pupil: Phil Jagielka: Began the season wondering if he would play for England again. He did and led Everton’s back-four manfully.
Must do better: Ross Barkley: Second season syndrome plus the need to recover from injury meant a low-key campaign.
Don’t come back next term: Antolin Alcaraz: The faith his manager, Roberto Martinez, has in the centre-half is touching – but utterly misplaced.
Perfect new arrival: Tom Cleverley: Long wanted to replace Gareth Barry at Goodison but will the Tim Sherwood regime at Villa offer him more?
7/20 Hull - E
Progress through the year: After much early promise we are sorry to say that Hull have slipped back into bad habits. Their attendance goes to pot later in the year.
Specific areas that need improvement: We do not understand why Hull have so many absentees. Attendance remains a problem.
Star pupil: Dame N’Doye, joined the class late but has impressed everyone with his application.
Must do better: Abel Hernandez, made such a good start to the term but has failed to match that standard recently.
Don’t come back next term: Allan McGregor, Allan has unfortunately struggled with the top set and was dropped down a level for his own good.
Perfect new arrival: Petr Cech, could stop the goals that would stop the end of term worries.
8/20 Leicester City - A
Progress through the year: September’s 5-3 win over Manchester United appeared a false dawn until doomed-looking Foxes suddenly, and thrillingly, blossomed as a top-flight team with six wins in seven matches
Specific areas that need improvement: Need to strengthen in full-back slots; Nigel Pearson might belatedly see the benefits of good PR
Star pupil: Esteban Cambiasso. Argentine veteran’s experience, intelligence and attitude have been crucial
Must do better: Danny Drinkwater. 2014 player of year has struggled with step-up
Don’t come back next term: Paul Konchesky and Matthew Upson’s top-flight days are numbered
Perfect new arrival: Robert Huth on permanent deal after huge impact on loan.
9/20 Liverpool - C
Progress through the year: Negligible. Failed in the Champions League and failed to requalify for the competition but there was some exhilarating football in the first three months of 2015.
Specific areas that need improvement: The inability to properly replace Luis Suarez and the injuries to Daniel Sturridge meant Liverpool’s leading scorer is Steven Gerrard with eight.
Star pupil: Philippe Coutinho: Before Liverpool’s transfer committee began shelling out £40m for Dejan Lovren and Lazar Markovic, they paid Inter £8m for a gem of a footballer.
Must do better: Adam Lallana: His goal in Gerrard’s farewell to Anfield obscured what has been a deeply disappointing time on Merseyside.
Don’t come back next term: Mario Balotelli. Obviously.
Perfect new arrival: Mattia Perin: Simon Mignolet needs to be replaced in goal. At the very least he needs to be challenged. Perin is 22 and at Genoa they speak of him as the new Buffon.
10/20 Manchester City - C-
Progress through the year: Gone backwards: Made as feeble a defence of their title as they did the last time they were champions. Once more expensive also-rans in the Champions League.
Specific areas that need improvement: The defence has been a mess. Kompany and Zabaleta, the linchpins of two titles, were well below par. Paying Bacary Sagna £5m was not the answer to any kind of question.
Star Pupil: Sergio Aguero: Four goals v Tottenham, three v Bayern Munich and 31 in all. One of the best four strikers in the world.
Room for improvement: Eliaquim Mangala. For a central defender new to the Premier League, he had a poor season. For one that cost £42m, it was disastrous.
Don’t come back next term: Yaya Toure. He got his birthday cake (eventually), he got a four-year contract and he still played as if he would rather be somewhere else.
Perfect new arrival: Pep Guardiola. Failing that, the kind of big name star they failed to sign last summer. Paul Pogba from Juventus would be a start.
11/20 Manchester United - B
Progress through the year: Some. Improved from seventh place to fourth. Or put another way, produced their second-worst league performance since 1991. And at a vast cost in transfer fees.
Specific areas that need improvement: Away form; the biggest football club in the world failed to win at Sunderland, Burnley, Leicester, West Brom, Aston Villa, Stoke and West Ham.
Star pupil: Michael Carrick: At the age of 33, Louis van Gaal has made him the central midfielder everyone thought he might become under Sir Alex Ferguson.
Must do better: Angel Di Maria: The curse of being the most expensive Premier League footballer (Torres, Shevchenko, Veron) has now claimed the Argentine who would be United’s worst signing were it not for….
Don’t come back next term: Radamel Falcao. It is amazing how little £265,000 a week gets you these days. The Colombian is not the player he was before his knee injury and will not be getting a second chance.
Perfect new arrival: The arrival of Gareth Bale to drive Manchester United forward would make everyone forget about David De Gea going to Madrid.
12/20 Newcastle - F
Progress through the year: We find it difficult to explain the deterioration in Newcastle’s attendance and attitude since Christmas. Newcastle have given the distinct impression they no longer want to even be here.
Specific areas that need improvement: Goalkeeping, defending, creating goals, scoring goals, discipline, player recruitment, player retention and relationship with fans.
Star pupil: Ayoze Perez. Without his goals Newcastle would already be dropping down a set.
Must do better: Just about all of them but specifically Mike Ashley and Lee Charnley.
Don’t come back next term: Just about all of them, save for Perez, Daryl Janmaat and Jack Colback.
Perfect new arrival: A goalkeeper, four defenders, four midfielders, two forwards and a new owner.
13/20 QPR - F
Progress through the year: A ghastly season with potentially disastrous financial consequences. Most of the genuine players were past their best, the rest were dilettantes and mercenaries. Never had a chance.
Specific areas that need improvement: With Green and Austin set to leave, everywhere
Star pupil: Charlie Austin: Rangers would have been down by Christmas without him.
Must do better: Too many to choose from.
Don’t come back next term: Shaun Wright-Phillips. Sums up excesses of Fernandes era.
Perfect new arrival: Young, hungry loanees, like Alex Pritchard (Tottenham).
14/20 Southampton - B+
Progress through the year: Expected to be relegated, finished in sight of the Europa League. Ronald Koeman, and Saint’s scouting network, have had a superb season despite late fade.
Specific areas for improvement: Goalkeeper if Forster is out until 2016 Star pupil: Toby Alderweireld. Loan signing from Atletico provided defensive poise and experience
Must do better: Emmanuel Mayuka. Even before injury finished his season the 24-year-old was struggling to make an impact.
Don’t come back next term: Joos Hooiveld. Did well in the promotion season, but Premier League too great a step up.
Perfect new arrivals: Make Alderweireld’s loan permanent, get Jay Rodriguez back from injury.
15/20 Stoke - B-
Progress through the year: Steady if unremarkable. Set a modest target of bettering last year’s marks (50 Premier League points, a club record) and did so, just.
Specific areas that need improvement: Fewer goals conceded but must hit the target more often in the scoring department.
Star pupil: Bojan Krkic. The Spanish sparkler has been excused Games since January but won a string of gold stars before that.
Must do better: Philipp Wollscheid. On-loan Beyer Leverkusen defender flunked too many key tests.
Don’t come back next term: Wilson Palacios: £8 million midfielder was absent all season.
Perfect new arrival: Javier Hernandez. Out of depth at Real Madrid, the Manchester United striker could be a high achiever at the Britannia.
16/20 Swansea - A
Progress through the year: Outstanding: In Garry Monk, Swansea have produced a manager to rank with their other graduates; Roberto Martinez and Brendan Rodgers. He might even be better.
Specific areas that need improvement: Not many, although Swansea do need back-up for Bafetimbi Gomis now that Wilfried Bony has gone.
Star pupil: Gylfi Sigurdsson: Seven goals, 10 assists, 2.28 key passes every game, the forward is, according to Gary Lineker, just the sort of player Tottenham require.
Must do better: Jonjo Shelvey: There have been signs before the end of the season that he is attempting to cure the ill-discipline that threatened his Premier League career.
Don’t come back next term: Michu: A loan move to Napoli was an injury-blighted disaster and planned talks are unlikely to see the striker’s return to Wales.
Perfect new arrival: Luc Castaignos: The Netherlands under-21 striker has been compared to Thierry Henry and played briefly for Inter Milan. A fee of £6.5m would satisfy Twente Enschede.
17/20 Sunderland - E
Progress through the year: We still cannot understand why it is that Sunderland feel it is only important to appear at exam time. We wish they would show the application throughout the rest of the year.
Specific areas that need improvement: The creative subjects are a real problem for Sunderland. They work hard when here but struggle to make much of interest.
Star pupil: Lee Cattermole. We wish his discipline would improve but he shows the right spirit when in attendance.
Must do better: Steven Fletcher. Steven shows promise when on field trips in Scotland but rarely when with us.
Don’t come back next term: Santiago Vergini. Not up to the demands of the top set, unfortunately.
Perfect new arrival: Gylfi Sigurdsson, a goalscorer with vision and youth.
18/20 Tottenham - C
Progress through the year: Another season of unfulfilled promise though the development of Kane, Rose, Mason, Bentaleb offers hope. Reached Capital One Cup final but did not perform in it.
Specific areas that need improvement: A reliable centre-back and central midfielder with pace
Star pupil: Harry Kane. From reserves to the England team, an extraordinary impact.
Must do better: Vlad Chiriches. A David Luiz-lite who does not learn from his mistakes.
Don’t come back next term: Emmanuel Adebayor, so much talent, so little product.
Perfect new arrival: Danny Ings. Would complement Kane, and share goal burden.
19/20 West Brom - C+
Progress through the year: Worryingly poor under that nice Mr Irvine but much improved after no-nonsense Mr Pulis took charge. Even gave the head boys a beating.
Specific areas that need improvement: Can lack flair but Mr Pulis prefers his students to avoid mistakes than try to be too clever.
Star pupil: Saido Berahino. Sometimes raised eyebrows with out-of-school behaviour but regularly stood out in Games.
Must do better: Callum McManaman. Still has something to prove after stepping up a grade in mid term.
Don’t come back next term: Giorgios Samaras. Came with top marks from Scotland but failed to impress Mr Pulis.
Perfect new arrival: Patrick Bamford. If Ivy League Chelsea cannot offer him a place then red brick West Brom could be a perfect fall-back.
20/20 West Ham - C
Progress through the year: Started well, maybe too well as it raised expectations. Faded away as injuries and managerial uncertainty took their toll, but a solid season.
Specific areas for improvement: A fit and firing centre-forward
Star pupil: Aaron Cresswell. Proof that there is quality in the Championship.
Must do better: Andy Carroll. Centre-forward must get over fitness issues.
Don’t come back next term: Sam Allardyce. To an outsider promotion and two mid-table finishes looks good, but Hammers fans' never warmed to him.
Perfect new arrival: Mikel Arteta, surplus to requirements at Arsenal, but can make a team tick.
Paul Gilham | Getty Images
You can track Wilshere’s career by where he has been each summer since his breakthrough. In June 2011 he bossed England’s midfield against Switzerland at Wembley, the game in which his fateful stress fracture was supposed to have developed. By the summer of 2012 he was still recuperating. The following year, he had another ankle operation, missing England’s friendly against Brazil in the Maracana. After the World Cup finals last summer, with just one start and one sub’s appearance in the tournament, he declared that, at the age of 22, he was too old to be talking about potential any longer.
That means that Euro 2016 should be Wilshere’s tournament. He will be 24 and, with the retirement of various England midfield luminaries, he is now at the centre of Hodgson’s plans, although there can be no guarantees about how his body will hold up. He says that he has learnt his lesson, but again, with the latest FA charge for his anti-Tottenham chants just a week old, only time will tell.
“I was thrown into the scene at quite a young age, at 16, and by 18 I was playing for the national team so naturally it [scrutiny] was going to come,” Wilshere said. “I do quite enjoy it, some parts more than others. I’ve made mistakes, been open about the mistakes, I’ve learnt from those mistakes and I feel I’ve done a lot of growing up from when I was 18. It’s been a long and sometimes difficult five years.
“I’ve grown up. I’ve got two kids and if you ask whether I enjoy it [scrutiny], I think you just learn to deal with it. Nowadays it’s not just the media that are writing about you. All I’ve got to do now is look at my phone and I’m probably getting abused on Twitter every few minutes. You definitely get a thicker skin.”
By way of a postscript, as one of those necessary home-grown players, increasingly rare birds in the squads of Manchester City and Chelsea, he does have a cachet in the transfer market. “I definitely wouldn’t go somewhere just because I’m a home-grown player,” Wilshere said. “I’d want to be wanted by a club, I want to be wanted by Arsenal. I’ve grown up at Arsenal, I’m a home-grown player and, as long as Arsenal want me, then I’m happy.”
Next season, and next summer, has a great deal riding on it for him.
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