Jack Wilshere has revealed a desire to play in this summer's Under-21 European Championship, falling in with England manager Fabio Capello's own wishes for him but creating the prospect of a showdown with Arsène Wenger, who is firmly entrenched against the idea.
Wilshere's fine full competitive debut for England in the 2-0 win against Wales on Saturday has sharpened the 19-year-old midfielder's desire for international football of any kind, including the Under-21 tournament in Denmark in June. "Listen, this is international football and I want to play any international football," Wilshere said. "It's up to [Under-21 manager] Stuart Pearce and Fabio Capello. They will talk and see what's best for me."
Wenger will feel that it is he who knows best and when reminded of the Arsenal manager's opposition to the idea of players taking on Under-21 and senior duties, Wilshere insisted that he "always" speaks to the Frenchman.
Capello will name his captain for tomorrow's friendly with Ghana today after he assesses the players in training. He is expected to pick either Gareth Barry or Phil Jagielka after he yesterday released five players whose clubs remain in the Champions League; John Terry, Frank Lampard, Ashley Cole, Wayne Rooney and Michael Dawson. Kyle Walker has withdrawn from the squad after suffering a groin injury and Scott Parker is expected to follow suit as he has a shoulder problem. Glen Johnson too is a doubt.
Capello has made little secret of his hope that Wilshere, Liverpool striker Andy Carroll and Tottenham defender Walker will be in Denmark as he extolled the benefits of the Under-21 tournament. Citing a Barcelona player – Sergio Busquets – who has asked to represent Spain at Under-21, senior and Olympic level, Capello insisted Wilshere had the same determination. "He wants to play, I can tell you," said Capello. "One of the Barcelona players, one of the first XI [said] 'I want to play Under-21'."
Capello is leaving the difficult discussion with Wenger to Pearce, though the Football Association has been left in no doubt about Wenger's feelings. He was furious when Theo Walcott was called up for the Under-21 European Championship in 2009 after having established himself in the full set-up and recently said Wilshere would be overloaded. "Once a player has moved up and you move him down again [to the Under-21s] it never works," Wenger said. "Psychologically you feel you go down."
Capello was unmoved by the idea that it would mean the three players getting no break. "So will all the players who play South America's [Copa America]," said the Italian. "Carroll didn't play for two months [because of injury]. It is possible it is good for him to play more games." The Liverpool striker, who may start up front with Jermain Defoe against Goran Stevanovic's Ghanaians, as Capello considers sending out an entirely changed 11, is understood to feel it is best he does not go to Denmark and is ready to heed his club's wishes.
Busquets, however, said last October: "I want to play the Under-21s, the Euros and Olympics. Let's see how I am [at the end of the season]. If you can't do it when you're 22 and in good physical shape, then you will never be able to do it." Barcelona have agreed to him playing for the Under-21s.
Capello may retain some vestiges of Saturday's side as he seeks to defend England's unbeaten record against African opposition in what will be a far stiffer test against the world's 16th-ranked nation, and World Cup quarter-finalists, than Wales, ranked 116th, could offer on Saturday. Gareth Barry, who was not even on the bench in Cardiff, and James Milner will be looking to reassert their claims.
Rooney's booking in Cardiff means he will miss the next qualifier with Switzerland at Wembley on 4 June and one of Capello's most surprising disclosures was that he neglected to warn Rooney that a booking at the Millennium Stadium would exclude him from the potentially testing tie against the third-placed side in the group. Montenegro will leapfrog back to the top of the group if they beat Bulgaria and England fail to overcome the Swiss. But for reasons he left unspecified, Capello failed to remind Rooney of the impending suspension. "Usually we [do warn players]; this time no," Capello said.
Capello is certainly absorbed with Barcelona's success and showed his players videos of the pressing game employed by Pep Guardiola's side in their two recent Champions League ties against Arsenal, before his players used it to such effect in the new 4-3-3 system at the Millennium Stadium. "We watched some videos of Barcelona and tried to do it like them," said Wilshere. "We pressed high and the idea was to get some early goals and we got them." Wilshere smiled wistfully when it was suggested that watching those games must have been painful. "At my age, I am always learning," he said. "We watched the two games and [Capello] said how good Barcelona are at pressing."
The Football Association yesterday continued its attempts to clear up the mess over Capello's failure to inform Rio Ferdinand he had been deposed as captain. Club England managing director Adrian Bevington told the BBC that the Italian would contact Ferdinand after the international break. Steven Gerrard revealed Capello – who said on Friday he did not like to communicate such information by telephone – had called him to say John Terry had been reinstated. He said: "I did actually get a call."
Though Wales are at rock bottom, Craig Bellamy has said Gary Speed's work as Wales manager has given him even more optimism than when Mark Hughes took over from Bobby Gould in 1999. Bellamy says he will be available for Wales' September fixtures with Montenegro and the England return, but revealed age and persistent knee problems mean his future beyond that "isn't too great".
Lasers in spotlight fans target England players
The Football Association have no plans to make a formal complaint after several England players were subjected to laser pens during Saturday's European Championship qualifier against Wales in Cardiff.
Ashley Cole and midfielders Scott Parker and Jack Wilshere were all targeted by the green light during England's 2-0 victory at the Millennium Stadium, and the FA have held discussions over the issue.
"It was a silly thing. When we changed Scott Parker I saw it," England coach Fabio Capello said. "It is not good. You need to find these people who are coming to the game with a laser. It is not sporting."
The misuse of laser pens has become increasingly common in football.
* February 1997 Wimbledon's Vinnie Jones had a red laser directed at his head at Leicester. "The pain was incredible," he said. Aston Villa's Mark Bosnich was also a victim the previous month.
* December 2007 Didier Drogba was targeted during a win over West Ham.
* March 2008 Lyons were fined £2,520 after Cristiano Ronaldo was shone at during a Champions League tie.
* February 2011 Manchester United players were again targeted in France, John O'Shea and Nani suffering at Marseilles.
* March 2011 Manchester City's Alexander Kolarov and referee Chris Foy were picked out at Chelsea.
By James Mariner