18 November 2013

The Token Englishman: Why do all my countrymen underrate Jack Wilshere?

I've been asked once to try and come up with a British point of view for this blog, and ever since, I've been racking my brains for something to write. The aim is for this to become an (irregular) series of posts whenever I have a particularly English point of view.

The Roving Midfielder
Wilshere - Underrated for England?
(Photo courtesy - dom fellowes)
As a Brit raised in a household without Sky Sports (shocker, right?!), my main source of football news and commentary has always been the BBC. If any of you have ever followed a BBC live text commentary, you will know that they allow people to interact via text and Twitter. Every time I've logged on to BBC this season and followed their text commentaries, there are always a number of tweets saying that Jack Wilshere shouldn't be in the squad and that he's "out of form".

Having been to Lir for all but 2 matches this season, I've seen all but 2 of his club appearances this season, and watched 3 live England games since moving here in June. According to the British press, Wilshere is, as previously stated, "out of form". Now, to my eyes, he has been playing well. Not brilliantly, but hardly in poor form; somewhere around a steady 7/10. Statistically, he has 2 goals from 8 shots and 1 assist (for Arsenal) - which is relatively good for him; however, Jack's game has never really been about the 'stats'. What he offers is a willingness to drive at defenders with the ball at his feet and a fearlessness which is seriously lacking in the rest of the England squad. He also likes to get stuck in to challenges, pick the ball up deep and push the tempo, qualities that don't always reflect on the stat-sheet.

What has brought this all to mind is following the aforementioned BBC live text commentary of our match against Chile last Friday (a solid 2-0 loss at home). Before the game, the BBC showed a number of tweets stating that England need to drop Wilshere, and what they need to do to win is bring in Michael Carrick. Now, from the England matches I've seen this season, we are as mediocre as we usually are when Carrick plays in midfield. I can't say I saw Friday's match, but it seemed like Wilshere was at the heart of most of the positive moves, driving at the defence and winning free-kicks. Would we have beaten Chile if Carrick was playing? Where would the pace and energy come from in a midfield trio of Carrick, Lampard and Gerrard? Those 3 were part of the so-called "Golden Generation" who were going to win us World Cups and Euro titles, but failed miserably to do anything of note. There's a real dichotomy in being an England fan: we either want to play like the Spains and Germanys of the world, except that when we do we inevitably lose (unless we're playing a team outside the top-25 in the world) so we immediately call for a change in tactics in which we need 4 central midfielders to knock the ball sideways and backwards for long-balls up to Rickie Lambert; exactly what happened in one World Cup qualifier this year - it was this game that really cemented the "Wilshere out of form" narrative. The poor guy barely touched the ball as the defence would rather play route one all game to relieve the pressure on themselves.

I often feel like there is a majority of English football fans who are easily convinced by the "narratives" that the English press put out. The most popular newspapers in the UK are generally critically regarded as also being the 'worst': four of the top 6 include The Sun, the Daily Mail, the Mirror and The Daily Star; of the so-called broadsheets, only the Daily Telegraph cracks the top 5. It is these 'red-tops' which sell in the highest numbers with football fans, and where the analysis and the "narratives" seem to be laziest. To be fair, there is some excellent analytical work being done in many areas of the press, from nearly everything the Guardian and the Telegraph put out, to television pundits such as Lee Dixon and (as much as I hate to say it) Gary Neville.

In essence, it boils down to this: as an Arsenal fan, I'm fed up of hearing that Wilshere is "playing badly". I like to think I'm open-minded when it comes to football, and I will be the first to admit it if I think an Arsenal player isn't playing as well as he could; in Jack's case, I think it's untrue. It would be much preferable if people watched a game of football with open eyes and then came to their own conclusions, or, indeed, if the British press took a serious look at their journalists and writing styles.

1 comment:

  1. Smart comment. That said I've had a sense he is below his best all season, which is not the same thing as saying he is out of form. A solid 7/10 unrelieved by anything better can begin to feel underwhelming.

    Also I seem to remember one of those goals came from a game in which he had done little else of note. Not to be down on him, but as you say stats are a small fraction of the story