When Jack Wilshere broke onto the scene in such scintillating fashion 14 years ago, few would have predicted he would seriously be considering hanging up his boots at the age of just 30.
But that is the prospect the former Arsenal midfielder is currently wrestling with following the end of his spell with Danish side AGF Aarhus.
Wilshere is now back in England and last week was in familiar surroundings, spending the day at the Emirates Stadium at an event run by Arsenal and STATSports, which saw young players from around the world given the opportunity to impress at a training session.
The youngsters had been invited to north London after registering impressive performance data through the Arsenal edition of STATSports’ industry-leading performance tracking technology, with the club’s academy coaches and Wilshere keen to take a closer look at their potential.
“Because of that injury at 19 and maybe overplaying due to not having access to those numbers, I’m probably a player that would have benefitted from them (the access to stats) massively,” Wilshere said.
“I think what the kids have today, I would have loved it, put it that way.”
As he stood and watched the session unfold, it was clear that the football pitch is still where Wilshere feels at his happiest.
But the 30-year-old accepts he now has much to ponder, having reached a major crossroads in his career.
Wilshere has yet to decide whether he will play again; the offers that come his way in the next few months will determine that.
He still feels the urge to continue, his time in Denmark taught him that - even if AGF failed to win for 14 games while he was with them.
But the lure of coaching is growing stronger by the day, and if an opportunity arises over the coming months to focus on that side of the game, the former England international admits he will have a big decision to make.
“It all depends,” Wilshere said, when asked if he was looking to carry on playing. “Because I’ve been through so much in the last 18 months in terms of not having a club, I know what that feels like.
“If a coaching opportunity came up, I wouldn’t be sad to say ‘right that’s it, I’m done with playing’.
“I’ve got a big desire to coach and become successful at that. You look at the managers who have been successful in the last five or six years, they started young. So I just think ‘why not?’Getty Images
Wilshere added: “I have still got that bug [to continue playing], but I have said it so many times that it has to be right.
“My goal is not to go to a club and then go to Real Madrid or go back to Arsenal. I want to go somewhere and enjoy it, and maybe learn a different culture that’ll help me with my coaching as well.”
The next few months, then, are going to be key to determining what direction Wilshere decides to go in.
He is fully fit and whilst his spell in Denmark may not have been overly successful in terms of what happened on the pitch, it was another example of how well his body is now standing up to football.
For a player who has had to deal with the ‘injury prone’ tag for so long, Wilshere has suffered no issues from that point of view for a long time.
So he believes he still has a lot to offer, but the two-time FA Cup winner admits he will not continue playing just for the sake of it.
The club and the environment has to be right.
When asked if he would consider dropping down to League Two, for example, Wilshere replied: “I have had this question before and I have also been hammered for saying I don’t want to play in the Championship.
“That’s not me saying I think I am too good for the Championship. I was in the Championship and I ended up sitting on the bench, and I didn’t enjoy it. It is as simple as that.
“If I am not going to enjoy it, I don’t want to play there. So, I probably wouldn’t go to League Two because I’d probably end up on the bench there as well.”
Wilshere now finds himself in a similar position to where he was this time a year ago. Once again he is without a club and is unsure what the future holds for him within the game.
The big difference this time around, however, is how he is feeling within himself.
Last summer, he was in a difficult place. He felt unwanted and in August he gave an interview to The Athletic which shone a light on the impact it was having on him and his family.
But things have changed, with Wilshere pointing to his spell back at Arsenal - which ran from October until February - as the period that changed everything.
After being invited back by Mikel Arteta, the aim for Wilshere was to get fit while he looked for a new club.
But crucially he was also given the chance to coach some of the club’s academy teams while he worked towards his coaching badges.
And it was that spell, working with some of Arsenal’s brightest young talents, that really focused Wilshere’s mind when it came to his coaching ambitions.
“It stemmed from there,” he said. “I always thought it was something I wanted to do. I did my B Licence when I was younger, but when you’re playing you don’t really have that much time to actually coach.
“When I went back to Arsenal, I was coaching every day with the Under-18s and 23s, I loved every minute of it.”
Wilshere made a big impression during his time back at London Colney.
Arteta was hugely impressed with the way he carried himself and the young Arsenal players were constantly turning to him for advice, with the likes of Charlie Patino particularly keen to learn from a player he has consistently been compared to in recent years.
“I was lucky to have players like that who were similar to me in terms of being very good technically,” Wilshere said.
“I sort of saw myself in their shoes. And they were brilliant because they accepted me straight away. They were asking me questions. And that was important as well.
“It could have gone one of two ways. If I had gone in there and the players weren’t feeling the same way I was, then I might not have liked coaching.
“But I was lucky it was those players because of how they were. First of all as people and characters, but also how good they were.”
Wilshere admits he would love to return to Arsenal again one day, but for now he has to wait and see what the next few months will bring.
He has ruled out another stint training at his former club to keep fit as that would feel like he was "holding onto something that is not there."
But a coaching role in the future could be an option if one was available, with the drive to reach the pinnacle of the game still burning strong inside a man who admits he was unable to fulfil his ambitions as a player.
“When I was in Denmark, I spent a lot of time on my own. You start thinking about the reasons why you want to be a coach. I just feel like there’s something still in me that wants to get to a high level.
“That probably won’t ever be as a player again. So if I can do that as a coach, why not?”
Wilshere added: “I didn’t ever reach my full potential as a player and everyone knows that. It’s a difficult thing to accept and that’s why I still have a big burning desire in me to be successful in the game.
“I don’t think I will ever accept it until I’ve reached that as a coach.”
What Wilshere has gone through during the past two years has taught him a lot about what could be to come, should he decide to call time on his playing career and move into the coaching world.
He accepts that is no guarantee of success and knows he has much to learn as he works towards completing his course for the Senior Pro UEFA A Licence and continues on the International Player to Coach programme.
Wilshere looks back at his time at Arsenal last year as a valuable learning curve and points to Arteta as a source of inspiration.
“He loves it,” Wilshere said. “You have all heard how good Mikel is on the pitch, how intense he is and how detailed he is. I learned a lot from him in that period. He helped, along with the young players, to inspire me to want to be a coach.”
Wilshere added: “[As players] we were completely different. I was the naughty one and he was the teacher’s pet!
“But when I was back there, Manuel Almunia was there. He was talking to Mikel and we were chatting. He said to me: ‘Are you the same Jack?’ Mikel said: ‘No, he’s not. He’s the complete opposite.’
“I think [the naughty boy tag] is everyone’s perception and only I can change that. I think Mikel noticed that pretty quick.
“That’s not really something that worries me. Without throwing him under the bus, look at Wazza [Wayne Rooney]. I was close with Wayne and I could always see that he had it in him to be a manager. Whereas you could ask the general public and they’d probably say no.
“The perception you are trying to give off to the right people, the people close to you, the people in clubs, is a different one than a lot of people I see.”
So where does Wilshere see himself in the future?
Next season he will be watching on as Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard manage teams in the Premier League, while the way Rooney has handled himself during such difficult times with Derby County has also seen him attracting admiring glances from clubs in England’s top division.
Does Wilshere see himself going head to head with his former England team-mates on the touchline one day?
“It all depends,” he said cautiously. “I would love to sit here and say I want to be England manager, I want to be Arsenal manager.
“But I am not stupid enough to think that just happens. You have to go and start somewhere, learn your trade, build yourself up, learn things and learn how to manage people.
“As a player, you never really do that and it is a skill that needs developing. No one can do it straight away - you have to learn what works for you and then you have to be successful.
“That takes a bit of luck, as well. Your timing needs to be right. The right job needs to come up and you need to be in the right place at the right time.”
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