James Lawton: Sorry Arsène, but you should glory in Wilshere's wish to play for Under-21s
It is encouraging that the England manager Fabio Capello is providing such strong support for Wilshere's ambition
Tuesday 29 March 2011
Let's hear it for Jack Wilshere. Let's raise a cheer for a lad who at 19 so plainly sees football as his best means of making an impact on life, a belief which is wonderfully enhanced by the fact that he is the diamond of this season, a youngster head and shoulders above the rest of his generation.
No doubt wider issues in the fight for love and glory will make their presence felt soon enough.
Yes, there are some tough old, complicated places beyond the touchline – and Wilshere has already had a scrape or two out there – but how refreshing it is to hear him state so emphatically that he wants to be involved in England's European Under-21 campaign this summer.
His mentor Arsène Wenger doesn't approve, we are told. Too bad. The great Arsène has provided England with fine and noble service in developing Wilshere – just as he has Wales with the nurturing of their potentially brilliant young captain Aaron Ramsey – but the hand that has given now threatens to take away.
He thinks the Under-21 tournament will be too draining for his protégé Wilshere. Of course, Wenger's priority is Arsenal but it is interesting, and encouraging, that England manager Fabio Capello is providing such strong support for Wilshere's ambition, which was stated so unequivocally when he declared: "Look, this is international football and I want to play any international football."
Capello has chipped in with the timely reminder that this is exactly the position of Barcelona's 22-year-old virtuoso Sergio Busquets, who is also keen to join the summer action in Denmark. When Capello speaks of Wilshere there is a charge in his voice and a light in the eyes that have developed a tendency to cloud over at the mere mention of Rio Ferdinand's delicate feelings. He sees in Wilshere a young player who is impassioned and emboldened by the game. He sees in him the cut of a Franco Baresi or a Paolo Maldini, consummate players, pros to the tips of their toes.
What he sees in Liverpool's Andy Carroll is probably a somewhat less uplifting image. Carroll has clearly impressed the England coach with his raw potential, his scary power in the air and deceptive skill on the ground, but the news that he is happy to go along with Liverpool's reluctance for him to join Young England is a disappointing reaction from someone who has scarcely kicked a ball in the last few months.
It is also true that Carroll has a major task in re-building his off-field record, which, unlike Wilshere's, has rather more than fleeting evidence of youthful indiscretion. Carroll is apparently not drawn to the challenge of helping England win the kind of trophy that in recent years has been the underpinning of Spain's success in the European Championships and the World Cup.
This, though, is something for Carroll's career advisers. Wilshere is clearly not in need of anyone to tell him what his priorities should be.
"Wilshere is fantastic," says Capello. "So confident for a player of his age, it is remarkable. He is exceptional. Yes, I expect him to be captain of England one day." Certain parallels are inescapable. When Bobby Moore was a boy at West Ham he attached himself to Malcolm Allison, the guru of the dressing room. He was so eager to learn everything about the game he hung around to catch the same bus home as the man who would emerge as England's most brilliantly innovative coach.
Moore was mature beyond his years – and he was the player of his generation, a sure-fire captain of England who won the immediate respect of older players of such distinction as Bobby Charlton and Jimmy Greaves.
All season Jack Wilshere has been drawing a similar pattern of growing assurance, and this was not the least so at the Millennium Stadium last weekend.
He has faced an immense challenge of learning. Soon after winning some passing notoriety with a red-card tackle, he scored a goal of sumptuous maturity in his first Champions League start against the Ukraine champions Shakhtar Donetsk. At the Nou Camp he was so close to delivering a withering response to some patronising comments from Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola. Unfortunately, Nicklas Bendtner was unable to convert a perfectly contrived opportunity.
Now, after the disappointment of expulsion from the Champions League and the FA Cup and before the denouement of the Premier League, Wilshere again sticks his head above the parapet to say that he wants to do a little more for England.
It is something Wenger should glory in rather than dampen. Yes, we know of the problems of burn-out. We know the draining effects of too much action, too soon. But if Wilshere cannot stretch himself now, if he cannot respond to the most compelling cries of his own nature, when will he be able to do so?
When he is ensconced in his country pile with a fleet of cars in the driveway and his press agent clearing up the kiss-and-tell stories? It is not so likely.
Jack Wilshere has declared the strongest ambition to play football for his country at a time when he could be sprawled on a beach or behind the VIP rope in some night-owl joint. He has said that for him it will bring its own reward. It is a matter for pride and national celebration. Don't you think, Arsène?
Balotelli's troubles symptomatic of instability at City
Ashley Cole fires an airgun. Mario Balotelli throws a dart. No doubt there is any amount of scope for mocking laughter in these ludicrous events but in the case of young Balotelli you surely need a strong stomach to pursue the joke.
Manchester City are reported to be seeking a "full understanding" of the latest incident but they should really hurry it along. This is a kid who needs care and a degree of protection from himself that is plainly not currently being provided.
If it does not come quickly City will not only have blown £24m – which of course is not much more than loose change for the richest club in the universe – but they will invite the question that, if they cannot get such relatively small and obvious matters right, what earthly chance have they of arriving at anything like a clear view of the big picture?
There was widespread astonishment in Italy that City should commit themselves to so much money and potential trouble when they signed a young player of considerable talent but also dismaying instability.
Ever since it happened there have been plenty of reasons to understand why Jose Mourinho so quickly washed his hands of the problem. Now Roberto Mancini has to push the issue to the top of his agenda. It is, after all, shooting to pieces much of what is left of his credibility.
Vaughan is right – Broad could be the perfect one-day captain
The more you think about it, the less Michael Vaughan seems to be coming from left field when he suggests Stuart Broad as a replacement for Andrew Strauss as the one-day captain.
At 34, Strauss has put together a brilliant body of work. Not only has he won two Ashes series, with coach Andy Flower he has brilliantly repaired the damage inflicted by the hare-brained concept of Kevin Pietersen as a leader of anything other than his own fantasies.
But plainly the ordeal of an Ashes and World Cup command with time-expired troops has taken its toll on even Strauss's patience and resolve. He is needed for more Ashes plunder, and more development of the Test team, and he should now allow himself some undivided attention to such important work.
Broad's self-belief, which there is reason to believe is equipped to withstand all but the heaviest artillery fire, and all-rounder's talent make him an automatic choice for the one-day team.
The responsibility of captaincy might just be the springboard for the additional bonus of fully fledged adulthood.
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