Sam Wallace: The flag-bearer of a new generation whose time is rapidly approaching
Wilshere is better technically than Makélelé. When he receives the ball he is more dangerous
there have been a few occasions when the clamour for Fabio Capello to overhaul the England squad in favour of the nation's emergent young players has been insistent, but never before has the Italian been inclined to put the next generation at centre stage – until this week.
When Capello signalled his intention to build his midfield, and potentially his whole team around the talents of Jack Wilshere, he did not only promote the 19-year-old to being the country's midfield general-in-waiting. Rather, Capello suggested that at last the door was open for the generation of players approximately 10 years younger than the one still referred to as "golden".
Behind Wilshere is a queue of young England players waiting for their chance – Andy Carroll, Adam Johnson, Jordan Henderson, Kieran Gibbs, Chris Smalling and Danny Welbeck among them. None of them has established themselves in the first XI of a Premier League side in the manner of Wilshere but by the Euro 2012 tournament next year – provided England qualify – that might well have changed.
There were more names mentioned by the England manager this week, too. Martin Kelly, the Liverpool right-back, and Tottenham's Kyle Walker, currently on loan at Aston Villa, who plays in the same position, are also up for consideration. If even the innately conservative Capello thinks that it is time to turn the page perhaps the England team is approaching a watershed moment over the next 12 months.
It will not happen overnight, and it certainly will not all change when England play Denmark in 12 days' time but there is a good chance that come Euro 2012, if England are at the tournament, the squad could be considerably different to that which has contested the last two World Cup finals. In doing so, Capello will be leaving his successor a very changed England team for the 2014 World Cup qualification campaign.
As for Wilshere, he will be expected to be the flag-bearer for the new generation, which is quite a responsibility for one who is not out of his teens until next year. He does not have an unblemished record off the pitch – two arrests, the most recent for being part of a group that allegedly threatened a taxi driver – which suggests there is some learning to do. Capello is prepared to cut him some slack.
"I read something that he had some problem with a taxi driver. Silly things. Not a lot of problems," Capello said. "The private life is private life [sic]. It is not my problem. Young players have to understand that young people are an example. This is important. But private life [I] can do nothing."
As for Wilshere's red-card tackle on the Birmingham striker Nikola Zigic in October, there was something in it that reminded Capello of his younger self trying to get on in the game. "Some times you can make mistakes. I did the same sometimes as a player. It's the red mist. Wilshere is better technically than [Claude] Makélelé. He's slower than Makélelé. Makélelé was faster. When he receives the ball he is more dangerous than Makélelé."
Wilshere will probably bridle at the comparison with Makélelé, whose name – despite his success at Chelsea – conjures up connotations of defensive hard work rather than the game's more glamorous aspects. Anyone who saw Wilshere's ball to Nicklas Bendtner for Arsenal's first goal against Ipswich on Tuesday night knew that was not the kind of pass Makélelé made often.
For Adam Johnson, who has struggled to impress his manager, Roberto Mancini, at times this season there was also a nudge that he would have to understand his elevation to Manchester City brought with it different responsibilities. "He's a young player who changes the team," Capello said. "When they play for an important team, they have to understand that private life has to be different. You have to win every game, not just play every game. That's a big difference.
"Johnson is a good player. The last game I saw him in [against Aston Villa] I saw what he could do. When he played he made a difference. I am lucky to have the chance to choose him on the right. He can play left.
"Welbeck is another interesting player. Him and Carroll are two young players we monitored but both are injured. They are really interesting. Henderson too. Gibbs will be the same. I am happy they are playing a lot of games."
On Walker, Capello said that he had seen the 20-year-old play for the Under-21s against Uzbekistan. "Across the box he was really, really dangerous. Very fast. But he has to improve with his defending. He's a really good player. He's fast and technically very good." Kelly, Capello said, was one "for the future".
There is still a core of players comprising Joe Hart, Theo Walcott, James Milner and, of course, Wayne Rooney, whose ages range from 21 to 25 and who have already established themselves as internationals, who will be part of the squad for a while yet. Ashley Young, Tom Huddlestone, Darren Bent and Aaron Lennon fall into the category, albeit with less of a claim thus far to a starting place.
Capello was also convinced that his captain, Rio Ferdinand, is back to full fitness and form. "I saw him at Tottenham. I said, 'You're back'. His control on the ball. Forward passing."
And he still refused to rule out a return for David Beckham. "Every time I choose the players for that moment. Not for sympathy or antipathy. I choose the best players." Otherwise it was a fairly radical manifesto, starting with Wilshere's first shot at pulling the strings next month.
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