This is not how the Jack Wilshere story was supposed to play out.
As a stocky midfielder with a low centre of gravity, comparisons to Paul Gascoigne were inevitably drawn once a fresh, young English talent burst onto the scene in 2008.
Wilshere has been happy to embrace the moniker, conceding after a match-winning performance against Slovenia in June 2015 that he has endeavoured to adopt a similar mindset to an iconic figure of the 1990s.
He said: “Sometimes I think players feel a little bit of fear and a bit of pressure when they play for their country. But he just wanted to go out there. He said he felt at his best when he was playing, with the ball at his feet. You do sometimes feel like that. He did it and he was England’s best player. So, it’s worth a try.”
Others have also talked up the Gazza likeness, with Wayne Rooney stating in February 2013: “The way he [Gascoigne] ran with the ball – probably the closest thing I’ve seen to him is Jack, where he gets the ball and runs at players a lot quicker and a lot stronger than people realise.”
The problem for Wilshere is that he has been unable to shake off his ‘the new...’ tag and become a standout performer in his own right.
Over eight years on from his senior debut at Arsenal, it is only in the 2016-17 campaign that he has reached 200 club appearances, at 25 years of age.
|Season||Games||Starts||Sub off||Minutes||Goals||Assists||Passes (per 90 mins)||Passing accuracy|
|Dribbles||Dribbles completed||Touches||Duels won||Duels lost||Tackles||Interceptions||Recoveries|
|2010-11||99 (3.36)||61 (2.07)||2374 (80.63)||178 (6.05)||161 (5.47)||58 (1.97)||51 (1.73)||205 (6.96)|
|2012-13||102 (5.41)||56 (2.97)||1533 (81.35)||150 (7.96)||119 (6.31)||33 (1.75)||24 (1.27)||146 (7.75)|
|2013-14||108 (5.65)||45 (2.36)||1586 (83.04)||124 (6.49)||133 (6.96)||31 (1.62)||10 (0.52)||123 (6.44)|
|2014-15||63 (7.75)||32 (3.93)||691 (84.96)||65 (7.99)||60 (7.38)||10 (1.23)||5 (0.61)||62 (7.62)|
|2015-16||11 (7.02)||6 (3.83)||114 (72.77)||15 (9.57)||10 (6.38)||3 (1.91)||2 (1.28)||12 (7.66)|
To stick with the Gascoigne comparison, a now infamous outing for Tottenham Hotspur in the 1991 FA Cup final was the enigmatic midfielder’s 216th on the senior stage – with that total reached by the age of 24 and in seven years which included none of the European opportunities afforded to Wilshere.
The knee injury suffered against Nottingham Forest for a reckless challenge on Gary Charles would curtail Gazza’s progress, with only 252 club appearances made after that fateful day at Wembley before hanging up his boots.
It is perhaps that second chapter of a once glittering career that Wilshere is currently the closest to emulating.
Gazza was to produce more moments of magic – a successful spell at Rangers included a memorable summer at Euro 96 – but he was never quite the same player, in much the same way as a man intended to follow in his footsteps has been incapable of truly fulfilling his early potential.
Wilshere still has time on his side, but there is only so much good will an injury-ridden performer can be shown before the conclusion is reached that he is permanently broken.
His latest setback – a hairline fracture of his left fibula – has brought a season-long loan spell at Bournemouth to a premature conclusion and conjured up painful memories of the last time he picked up such a knock.
The very same ailment suffered in August 2015 sidelined Wilshere for 247 days, forcing him to miss 47 fixtures.
He cannot afford to write off the best part of another year of his career, with it possible that he could soon become out of sight and out of mind – with there only 12 months left to run on his current contract at Arsenal and a spell with the Cherries having done little to raise his appeal.
Scratching around for positives, Wilshere has made more Premier League appearances this season than he has managed for six years, but other numbers across the board have still been heading in the wrong direction in spite of the regular minutes and a position at a team that embraces the similar ball-playing philosophies of his parent club.
With no goals, fewer passes and dribbles, a lower pass completion rate than any of his seasons at the Emirates, fewer touches, tackles and interceptions – with those figures relevant both as collective sums and across any per 90-minute outing – and no appearances for England since Euro 2016, Wilshere appears to be regressing rather than progressing.
A man once billed by Barcelona icon Xavi as “the future of English football” needs to ensure that he does not become a forgettable part of its present and past, with it becoming increasingly difficult to figure out in which direction he will head at another important career crossroads.
One path may well lead to redemption and a standing alongside Gazza in the eyes of the English public, but that track is clearly not signposted and there remains a danger that he could still wander off towards a sporting graveyard occupied by former boy wonders who never quite made it.