As Arsenal slumped to defeat against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge yesterday, the one player who seemed intent on driving forward and leading his side was their youngest. Although still only 21, now is the time for Jack Wilshere to be given the Arsenal captaincy.
Since his return from the long-term injury, Wilshere has looked comfortably Arsenal’s best player in virtually every game he has played, combining a Spanish-like creativity with an English tenacity and spirit.
At times yesterday, he looked like the only player who truly cared about his side winning the game, and his ability to lead by example and inspire others around him almost earned Arsenal an unlikely point.
The likes of Santi Cazorla and Lukas Podolski have, considering their undoubted quality, gone missing over the winter months, while the lack of fight and passion shown by players like Abou Diaby, Gervinho and Andrei Arshavin is simply unacceptable at this level.
Wilshere’s frustration with Diaby, in particular, was evident on more than one occasion yesterday. The Frenchman has the talent of Wilshere but his attitude and hunger are nowhere that of the young Englishman.
Tony Adams, Patrick Vieira and Cesc Fabregas were all outstanding Arsenal captains, with a determination to succeed and an aura about them on the pitch. They were all vocal so it didn’t matter if the rest of the side was a little on the quiet side.
Wilshere has both of these attributes already. He has captained the Arsenal-under 16s so it’s not as if he has no previous experience of leading a side either.
Current captain Thomas Vermaelen is not a bad captain by any means, but he lacks the character and voice of Wilshere. While some players can be inspired by being given the captaincy, others can be burdened by it. Vermaelen falls into the latter, and his performances this season have suffered because of it.
Wilshere would fall into the other category were he given the armband, so it seems to be a wise move for Arsene Wenger to make for the good of two of his key players.
Some may argue that, at 21, Wilshere is too young to be made captain of a club of Arsenal’s size but, whether you are in your early 20s or early 30s, if you are captain material then age is not an issue.
There are numerous cases that back up this argument:
Adams was Wilshere’s age when he was given the captaincy in 1988, and it turned out to be a superb decision by then-manager George Graham. Adams led the side for 14 memorable years and is now thought of as Arsenal’s greatest captain of all time.
Steven Gerrard was made captain of Liverpool by Gerard Houllier in 2003 at the age of 23, and his game went up a huge notch in the process. Many couldn’t believe Houllier’s decision at the time, given that Sami Hyypia was in his prime and an excellent leader, but there is no doubt it was the correct decision.
Houllier sensed that, like Wilshere currently, Gerrard had the character and talent to lead the side for many years to come. Taking away the armband from Vermaelen, like Hyypia, would be tough on the 27 year old but it would be the right choice by Wenger.
John Terry was also 23 when Jose Mourinho chose him as his skipper upon his arrival at Chelsea in 2004. For all the negativity said about him off the pitch, he has been a superb leader on it since day one of his captaincy.
These are players that Wilshere has spoken of in glowing terms and whose leadership qualities he will hope to replicate in the coming years.
Adams, Gerrard and Terry have one, crucial thing in common with Wilshere: they all grew up loving the side they became captain of. Wilshere lives and breathes Arsenal and it makes a huge difference to an entire club having one of their own leading the side.
Wilshere as captain
Wilshere’s genuine love of Arsenal also means there is every chance he will stay at the club for his entire career. This is another important factor in Wenger giving him the captaincy. While Fabregas, Robin Van Persie and Samir Nasri have all moved on despite declaring their love for the club, with Wilshere it is different.
Of course he wants success, and if Arsenal are struggling it might cross his mind to move to a club guaranteeing trophies, but his desire to win silverware at his boyhood club will always sway his opinion.
At international level, there is no reason why Wilshere can’t be the next captain of England.
Gerrard will remain in the role until the 2014 World Cup, but he will almost certainly retire from international duty as soon as England are knocked out. By this time Wilshere will be 18 months older and wiser and, although leading your country is a huge responsibility, he would revel in the job.
Wayne Rooney is probably the current favourite to take over from Gerrard, but question marks remain about his form and temperament for his country. Joe Hart is also a good option and an excellent role model on and off the pitch, but he lacks the influence of Wilshere.
Although there would be a certain risk element involved, he should be considered by Roy Hodgson. If 2014 ends up being too soon, then it will be hugely surprising if he doesn’t end up leading England at some point in the future.
In 10 years time, we will be talking about a 31 year old Jack Wilshere: one of the world’s best midfielders, and Arsenal and England’s talisman over the last decade. His supreme talent dictates this prediction, but it is vital for both Arsenal and England that he spends the majority of these 10 years as captain of both club and country.