Sam Wallace: Wilshere should light up Olympics, not head East for his pre-season
The Olympics would give Wilshere valuable international tournament experience
Arsène Wenger was as downbeat on Friday as he has ever been on the subject of Jack Wilshere's chances of playing in the European Championship this summer. In fact, when you read between the lines, it sounded like Wenger was laying the groundwork in the event of a dispute with the Football Association over the player's fitness come next month.
Wenger's ultimatum was that for Wilshere to be ready for Euro 2012 he had to be "competitive" by the end of this month. That was not the same as saying that as long as he played in Arsenal's final game of April against Stoke City on the 28th he had a chance of going to Poland and Ukraine. It was more exacting than that.
"Competitive"? At the very least that would mean Wilshere being back in the team for three games by the end of April. Arsenal play Wolves on Wednesday and Wigan Athletic a week today, which is the first of their three remaining games this month. For Wilshere to be back in the first team in a week's time looks a tall order indeed, given Wenger's gloomy prognosis of the player.
The most telling phrase of all was Wenger's pledge that Arsenal would "try to keep the hope alive for him – without taking too many risks". It sounded like a manager trying to be as sensitive as possible about crushing the hopes of a young footballer who has not played a game all season.
Later that afternoon, after Wenger's words had been reported, Wilshere tweeted: "Dreams CAN come true" and left it at that.
The likelihood of England being without Wilshere this summer has been largely forgotten over the last three months amid Fabio Capello's departure and the FA subsequently taking its own sweet time over a replacement. But with England's first game against France nine weeks today, it looks like one of the brightest talents in the country – and a nailed-on first-team choice – is out of Euro 2012.
At 20 years old, Wilshere will have many more chances to represent England. This time last year, as a teenager, he was already starting games against Wales and Ghana. Pushing him too hard to return after nine months out with a stress fracture to his ankle would be foolish. Goodness knows, England have been here before at major tournaments with David Beckham, Michael Owen and Wayne Rooney.
But if it is the case that Wilshere is out of Euro 2012, it opens up another interesting debate. Providing he has recovered in time, and there is no reason to think he will not, Wilshere would be an obvious choice for Team GB at the Olympics. He has indicated in the past that he would relish the challenge. At 20, he would not take up any of the over-23 places and it would give him important tournament experience.
It is a personal view that Team GB has proved a flakey concept so far. Despite Adidas' best efforts to put the likes of Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey in official merchandise there has been no agreement from the Welsh FA, or its Scottish and Northern Irish counterparts, that home nation players will be released. These individuals could yet withdraw at the last minute.
Additionally, Team GB is in danger of being the official international retirement party for David Beckham that the FA and Capello, for various reasons, never gave him. The Olympics are not a major international football tournament, not compared to the World Cup finals or the European Championships, and there is no point pretending otherwise. But put Wilshere in there and the picture changes.
This is an exceptional young footballer who, because of his ability, has always been fast-tracked through junior teams, most notably the Under-21s. As a result, his international tournament experience is limited to one trip to Germany for the European Under-17s championships in 2009.
To put that in perspective, Iker Casillas, for example, won tournaments at Under-15s, Under-16s, Under-17s and Under-20s level with Spain before being part of the team that became European and then world champions.
The most persuasive case for Wilshere going to the Olympics – providing he still wants to – is the alternative if he does not go. Arsenal's pre-season tour of Asia begins with a game in Hong Kong on 27 July, the same day as the opening ceremony in London (the Olympic football competition starts on 25 July). On 29 July, Arsenal play Manchester City in Beijing. There will inevitably be more games, including, very possibly, a friendly in Nigeria.
If Wilshere stays with Arsenal, he will play at least two games in Asia, probably more. Potentially another in Africa. The very most he would be expected to play at the Olympics would be six games and the furthest he might have to travel is to Newcastle. Compared to the demands of a modern commercial pre-season tour in the Far East, a London Olympics looks a much more sensible option.
Naturally, one can see Wenger having objections and given the length of time Wilshere has been out of football that is understandable. Of course Arsenal will want to be sure he has done his pre-season work. But any argument that the Olympics would tire him out will look a bit flimsy compared to what Arsenal have in store this summer.
Wilshere is a fine young footballer who needs to be protected. But if he is keen, and providing he is sufficiently fit, then the Olympics could be the launch-pad that re-starts his career and gives him valuable international tournament experience. Surely better than a couple of weeks travelling around the world playing friendlies of no consequence while watching the Games on television?
Hotel fiasco shows folly of giving Euros to Ukraine
The news that Ukraine's President, Victor Yanukovych, has ordered hotels in his country to drop their rates for Euro 2012 is the latest depressing episode in the saga that makes you wonder why on earth Uefa gave the tournament to a country that has struggled in its preparations every step of the way.
When the Football Association's sale of tickets for England's group games began in December, the governing body made it clear that it did not think it would have any trouble meeting demand, ie it would not be a sell-out. As of last month tickets were still available even for England's first, and most attractive, game against France in Donetsk.
It was once unthinkable that England's allocations for tournament games would not be sold out, but a desire by Ukraine to milk English supporters by ramping up hotel rates by as much as 10 times their usual price at a difficult time financially has done it. It would serve them and Uefa right if their hotels were empty come June.
Here's hoping that the WSL is a success
Women's football is the country's third-largest participation sport after men's football and men's cricket. The women who play football have lives which are often the polar opposite of their male counterparts: under-paid and requiring them to combine second jobs and families with playing the game.
The second Women's Super League season began yesterday and while it will receive a fraction of the coverage of the Premier League, here's hoping it is a success. The collapse of the professional women's league in the United States is held up by some as evidence that women's football can never be popular. It is a depressing, negative argument that will only be dismantled for good by those in the WSL sticking to their belief in what they do.
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