By David Lynch
Though the long-awaited call-up of Leon Osman may attract the most attention - and several assertions that justice has finally been done - the return of Jack Wilshere to England duty is without doubt the defining aspect of Thursday’s squad announcement.
Wilshere’s inclusion, unlike that of the Everton man, is not the product of a decade spent forging a reputation in the tough terrain of the Premier League, or thanks to a spell of fine form this season. It is an acknowledgement of his status of one of the country’s most talented midfielders, a nod to what the 20-year-old is, but also to what he could be in the future.
The move of course comes against the wishes of Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger, who had spent much of this week seemingly discouraging Roy Hodgson from making this call. "It is a friendly. Jack should skip that," he recently told reporters. "What is important now is that he gets back to full fitness for this team. Once he is back he will play for England again, but if it is a friendly. I will have a little word of course. Anyway, Roy will call me about him.”
But it seems that “little word” held no sway with the 65-year-old. A man whose entire livelihood now rests on the successes or failures of a team which plays only once every few months must take such a gamble, one which could pay immeasurable dividends four years from now.
Put simply, the Three Lions need Wilshere; his skill set and quality make him a unique figure in English football – one who can maintain possession. A failure to do that stained England’s participation in Euro 2012 and has evidently continued into a World Cup qualifying campaign which has been far from comfortable so far, despite the avoidance of defeat.
Of course, heralding a player of such tender years as a saviour is a trap which England have fallen into several times in the past; the inclusion of Theo Walcott in the 2006 World Cup squad and Wayne Rooney’s premature elevation to national talisman during Euro 2004 are testament to that.
But so many football matches – and subsequently the tournaments in which they are played – are decided in midfield, and with that in mind the introduction of Wilshere is rightly a priority. How this young star meshes with Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard and Scott Parker in the Three Lions’ engine room is of the utmost importance, and deciding which veteran misses out is a quandary which must quickly be solved.
Admittedly, Wenger’s concerns over the strain placed on the midfielder’s body are well-placed, but there is a touch of hypocrisy from the Frenchman given his own contribution to those problems in the past. Mismanagement of Wilshere following his initial breakthrough at the north London club - in the guise of overplaying him - undoubtedly contributed to the stress fracture which began his lengthy spell on the sidelines.
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The 62-year-old also appeared to abandon his kid gloves in order to throw the Stevenage-born prospect into the mix for an hour-long appearance against QPR before putting him up against the might of Manchester United. A lack of sharpness undoubtedly contributed to the laboured tackle which saw him red carded in that game, though the subsequent one-game suspension may now be viewed as a blessing.
And so, given the circumstances, Wenger can have little complaint. Hodgson is simply another man trying to protect his job in the cut-throat world of football management, another observer aware of the limitless potential which Wilshere possesses and the impact that could have on his team.
Three Lions fans and sections of the media may choose to categorise the midfielder’s inclusion as motivated by desperation or plot to inject hope into a stuttering qualification attempt, though it is anything but. Hodgson at his best is a pragmatist and, with the first World Cup 2014 fixture just 582 days away, this is a move that exemplifies his prudence.Follow David Lynch on