Jack Wilshere: I made the same mistake twice - but I am not a smoker

England midfielder was asked what the biggest mistake of his career was

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The Independent Online

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.”

 

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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