After referring to him as "the future" of England's midfield, manager Fabio Capello has earmarked Arsenal FC starlet Jack Wilshere for his maiden international start against Denmark on Wednesday. The 19-year-old has come far in a short space of time, as this abridged feature from the latest Champions magazine explores.
Believe the hype. Jack Wilshere really has got it all. He's the first English midfielder to become a first-choice player under Arsène Wenger. And he is still only 19.
Arsenal supporters got a first proper glimpse of Wilshere in his side's 5-1 UEFA Champions League demolition of FC Shakhtar Donetsk in October. Drifting beyond Shakhtar's midfield, he changed pace, springing on to a Marouane Chamakh lay-off and, in a rapid move, exchanged passes with Tomáš Rosický before taking the ball in his stride and dinking it over Andriy Pyatov to score. The whole move took just four seconds, yet every Arsenal fan who saw it felt they had had a vision of a glorious future.
There is a perception that Wilshere is a Cesc Fàbregas-in-waiting, temporarily stationed as mobile dictator from deep until his skipper joins FC Barcelona. The Shakhtar match was his tenth start in a dozen games, his showreel including implausible backheels to create goals for Andrey Arshavin and Chamakh in two previous UEFA Champions League outings. For two months, he had been water-carrying like Didier Deschamps and scheming like Juan Román Riquelme.
Wilshere, who turned 19 on New Year's Day, joined Arsenal from Luton Town FC when he was nine. He raced through the age groups. At 16, Wenger, who usually plays down a youngster's progress, was moved to say: "Jack can play anywhere." That was in September 2008, when he became the youngest player to represent Arsenal in league football, making his debut against Blackburn Rovers FC at the age of 16 years and 256 days.
No wonder he was fast-tracked into the England Under-21s. Wenger said: "We forget this boy is only 16 and already has so much power. Give him four more years and he'll be massively strong. He can find the final ball and score goals. He is passionate and committed. You would want this type of player to finish off [in a] central [position]. He doesn't hide from challenges and that's a tremendous strength you do not want to lose."
Last January, Wenger finalised Wilshere's top-flight preparations by loaning him to Bolton Wanderers FC, whose manager Owen Coyle was left agog. "For one so young, he's brave, tough, mentally strong and destined for greatness," he said. "He's a total footballer. He can play wide, he can play in the middle and he can play as a second striker. Everything he does oozes class."
Just four days after the player's late international cameo against Hungary in August, he was pitched into the fray in this season's Premier League opener away to Liverpool FC. The trip to Anfield did not go perfectly – a loose pass outside the box led to a David Ngog goal – yet Wilshere retained his place. "
His maturity is light years ahead of his age," explained Wenger. "That's a sign of talent."
So is he Fàbregas mark two? "
Cesc's the perfect player for me to learn from because he's the player I most want to be like," Wilshere says. "He looks at me and remembers when he was just 17 or 18. Hopefully, I can become as good as him." The beauty for Wenger is, should Fàbregas stay, he will not be short of options. Wilshere looks poised to excel in midfield, in any position, for the next decade and beyond.
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