James Lawton: Not since Moore have England unleashed a prodigy like Wilshere

Walcott talks of the absolute confidence his Arsenal team-mate inspires when he is on the ball
Click to follow
The Independent Football

Underwhelming it may well seem in the current heat of domestic affairs, but there are at least two good reasons to be in Copenhagen tonight for England's friendly with Denmark, a fixture which Fabio Capello can only pray doesn't ambush him quite as badly as it did Sven Goran Eriksson five and a half years ago.

One is a fine old restaurant in the harbour which serves an array of smoked herring of astonishing flavour and is enhanced – memorably, you like to think at the time – by an equally impressive selection of schnapps.

The other is Jack Wilshere, maybe the most mature young English footballer to make his full international debut since Bobby Moore in Lima, Peru, en route to the 1962 World Cup in Chile.

Those who were there, including Sir Bobby Charlton and Jimmy Greaves, say that the presence of the young West Ham player, the weight and the assurance of it, made an unforgettable statement about what lay ahead.

Now Capello is talking about Wilshere in the same terms as his predecessor Sir Alf Ramsey when he unveiled his prodigy on the other side of the Andes.

Moore was two years older than Wilshere, but the faith being shown in his potential was still considered extremely bold. It says much for the young Arsenal player that his emergence tonight is just about the last word in formality. However, it is no less exciting for this.

There is certainly no apology here for linking the potential of Wilshere with the meaning of Moore, which probably reached its most unforgettable expression in Guadalajara in 1970, when, after a stupendous World Cup group game, Pele handed the England captain his shirt and embraced him as a fellow warrior of the highest calibre.

Above all, it is the composure of Wilshere which encourages the projection of him on to such terrain. His young Arsenal and England team-mate Theo Walcott talks of the absolute confidence he inspires whenever he is on the ball; trust, this is, in his ability to make the right move and the right pass.

As we have noted before, it is ironic that his education has been so beautifully handled by Arsène Wenger, a man for so long accused of paying no more than lip service to any obligation to give native talent some chance of development alongside a stream of high-class young foreign players. For the moment Wenger, understandably enough, deploys Wilshere behind the creative mainspring of Cesc Fabregas.

But then, with Fabregas's days at the Emirates so plainly numbered, there can be little doubt about the depth of Wilshere's ability to step up into a wider and deeper responsibility. At a modest 5ft 5in, we already see a footballer of authentic stature.

We see his fluency, his easy judgement of when to go, and when to stay, the clean and subtle ball-striking, and there is the uncanny, Moore-like understanding of space and time.

There is still much that needs attention. His discipline off the field has already provoked a raft of questions – and on it the timing and the spirit of his tackling have earned legitimate criticism.

Still, there is reason enough to go back to that day in Lima when we consider the international graduation of Jack Wilshere.

Yes, there have been intervening talents of great promise, especially so in the cases Paul Gascoigne and Wayne Rooney, but did any of them offer quite so many hints of an understanding of how the game truly works?

So is it a waste of time, Copenhagen? Maybe we should take a second look or, better still, a more searching first one at the brightest star in English football.

Comments