What next for Wilshere? Ex-Arsenal and England star at biggest crossroads of his career so far

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England's largely successful campaign at Euro 2020 stood in marked contrast to their previous continental campaign in 2016, when they suffered arguably their most humiliating result ever - defeat to Iceland in the last 16.

One major difference was the central midfield options Gareth Southgate had at his disposal.

In 2021, the Three Lions had Declan Rice and Mason Mount to dictate the tempo, alongside Kalvin Phillips, one of the true breakout stars of the competition.

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In 2016, however, Roy Hodgson had cobbled together an unappetising mix of an over-the-hill Steven Gerrard, an out-of-position Wayne Rooney, and numerous players well short of peak ability or tournament fitness in Jordan Henderson, Dele Alli and Eric Dier.

In addition, Hodgson had a choice between Danny Drinkwater and Jack Wilshere.

On one hand, Drinkwater had just lifted the Premier League title with Leicester City, forming a sensational midfield partnership alongside N'Golo Kante, providing creativity and passing range alongside the diminutive French battleship.

On the other, Wilshere had played a total of 141 minutes of senior football in the whole of the 2015-16 season, sidelined for much of the campaign with Arsenal due to a fractured calf bone.

It was, however, Wilshere who was rushed into action, and who looked horrendously rusty during an hour of the dire goalless group-stage draw with Slovakia, followed by 45 minutes as a second-half substitute against Iceland, in which he failed to spark England into life as they were humiliated and dumped out of the competition.

Hodgson was pilloried for his blind faith in Wilshere, who until that point had been regarded as the future of England's midfield - capable of moments of creative genius both for Arsenal and his country, shown in flashes between his serious injury absences.

Euro 2016 was the moment that patience wore off for fans, managers and pundits alike when it came to Wilshere - the last of his 34 England caps was that nightmare in Nice.

Jack Wilshere England

So we fast-forward to 2021, where England have just played in their first major tournament final for 55 years; while Wilshere has just been released from second-tier Bournemouth, and at 29 is at arguably the biggest crossroads of his career yet.

Wilshere, given the choice, would turn around and proceed all the way back up the road he came, back to Arsenal.

His social media is full of comments on the Gunners' recent fortunes - including a furious reaction to recent news of long-serving coach Steve Bould's exit - and  he serves as a regular on Arsenal-focused podcasts and YouTube panels .

He admitted in an interview with The Guardian earlier this year that he regrets leaving the Emirates Stadium, despite becoming less of a first-team presence towards the end of his time there.

He said in March: "It’s gone now, that feeling that I could still be there.

"I decided to leave, whether it was right or wrong. At the time it felt right, and probably in hindsight it wasn’t right, but it is what it is. 

"I remember when I was a player - and I’ve got a lot of Arsenal friends and family around me - and I always remember them saying: ‘It’s difficult to be an Arsenal fan.’ Now I know what they mean! Now it is strange but I still feel like it is part of me."

Sadly for Wilshere, that is not an option. He is a free agent, released from Bournemouth after the six-month deal he signed in January expired, as new manager Scott Parker decided to go in a different direction.

Wilshere, despite not quite managing to inspire the Cherries to a play-off place, leaves the Vitality Stadium with the respect of Bournemouth intact.  He made 17 appearances, and in January managed to score his first senior goal since August 2019.

Jack Wilshere Arsenal

The question now stands of where Wilshere will go next, having admitted when he first joined Bournemouth that he had never seen himself playing outside the top tier.

“I haven't played in the Championship or tried to win promotion before. If you had asked me 10 years ago if this was something I thought I'd ever be involved in, I would have said no,” Wilshere said in January.

He has proven he can still cut it at Championship level when fit, while there may also be options of a move to sunnier climes, with Wilshere having recently asking Kieran Gibbs, seemingly tongue in cheek, whether they need a new midfielder at Inter Miami.

The question, though, is whether Wilshere wants to keep playing, though his answer when joining Bournemouth following three months as a free agent after being released by West Ham, suggests retirement is not an option quite yet.

“I've been lucky enough to earn good money throughout my career, but being out of the game for three months made me realise I want to play this game for as long as possible", he said earlier this year.

Yet with an unreliable body - continuous issues with his ankle and groin, plus that cracked calf bone, have caused him to miss an estimated 214 club games throughout his career - sheer enthusiasm can only last so long.

It is probable that we will see Wilshere back on the field of play at some point in 2021-22, his reputation still strong enough for a club somewhere to take a chance on him.

It will not, though, be at the level which would have been thought of five years ago for a player who the England manager was willing to stake it all on to run his midfield at a major tournament.

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