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Saturday 11 June 2011

Thoughts? - Wenger, Wilshere & England

    Arsène Wenger’s decision to pressure the England set-up into not calling Jack Wilshere to the UEFA U-21 European Championship – kicking off today in Denmark today – is just the latest in an ongoing battle between Club and Country.

     Stuart Pierce’s squad, shorn of the Arsenal starlet and his teammate Kieran Gibbs, still has adequate skill and experience to progress well in the 8-team tournament. The recently transferred Jordan Henderson and Phil Jones headline a who’s who of young talent.

     The stars of the future are all over the pitch: Chris Smalling, Michael Mancienne, and Jones to man the defense; Scott Sinclair, Tom Cleverly, Henri Lansbury, and Danny Rose to provide the pace and midfield wizardry; Jack Rodwell, Fabrice Muamba, and Henderson bring the strength and experience to complement the skill and trickery in the midfield; Danny Welbeck, Daniel Sturridge, and the teenage Connor Wickham in attack to get on the end of chances and put them away.

    Winning an underage tournament does little for a country in terms of finance or reputation. It is good for a program, can help unknowns burst onto the world’s stage and earn some respect for smaller nations unlikely to ever win a big prize. The value of these internationals is the experience it gives the group of youngster in how to deal with the pressures and peculiarities of an international tournament.

    Tournament play has a different rhythm to the long grind of a season. The team is sequestered away, in an unbearably boring 5-star hotel, away from family and all the trappings that help them relax and prepare in between matches. As witnessed by England’s trouble in South Africa, these intangibles can derail that which should otherwise be a successful campaign.

    Acquiring this experience and building the bond of friendship between a group of players spread amongst the elite clubs of England is more important than results. Wilshere, and Gibbs’, non-inclusion in this squad does not bode well for an England set-up that already lacks the wherewithal to overcome these mental barriers.

    Wenger is acting out of concern for the fitness of his players who have played a lot this season; or maybe he is lashing out at his critics, depriving England of one of her stars to save himself trouble while engaging in a bit of “he’s my player, I made him and I’ll use him as I see fit.”

    There are many other young professionals in this competition who have played as much if not more than Wilshere. The Spanish squad is made up of regular first-teamers: Iker Muniain, Juan Mata, Diego Capel, and David de Gea, to name a few. Ukraine’s team has many players who have already featured for the full national team: Taras Stepanenko (4 caps) Yevhen Konoplyanka and Andriy Yarmolenko (8 caps each), Yaroslav Rakitskiy (10 caps) and a handful of others with a smattering of caps.

       Will this shortsighted, selfish behavior by Wenger impact the future chances of English success at the big tournaments? Does the 19-year old Wilshere need a rest? Was there really numerical proof that he was on the verge of a physical breakdown or was that just smoke?

    Though Wilshere would have helped England win this U-21 championship, the cost of his summer off may not be felt for many years.

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