Home > Football > Why Jack Wilshere should be in the England Under-21 squad this summer

Why Jack Wilshere should be in the England Under-21 squad this summer


“Don’t waste your youth growing up”

David Bentley’s career has never hits the heights his ego might suggest it has. A friend recently used the credo “if he was half as good as thinks he is, he’d be twice as good as he actually is” to describe Bentley and it seems perfectly applicable.

His current club Tottenham have all but abandoned him and Bentley has left the white flag planted in St Andrews after an unsuccessful loan spell at Birmingham City.

Four years ago, the story was very different. Bentley was at Blackburn Rovers and playing perhaps the best football of his career. Impressive performances at home and in Europe fuelled speculation that a big move was just around the corner.

Wilshere could don an England shirt for the next two summers

That summer he made an interesting decision. Bentley withdrew from England’s Under-21 squad. He had played virtually the entire season at Blackburn, one which included European forays and cup runs. Bentley was on the fringes of the full national team and felt a summer in Holland at the European Under-21 Championships would cause possible burnout. Never one to downplay his aspirations, he was looking further ahead, 12 months on in fact to Euro 2008.

The withdrawal may have been a drop in the ocean for Bentley’s career but the ripples continue to reverberate today. Bentley saw the Under-21s as beneath him. Having sampled life at the top table with England, he wasn’t willing to dine elsewhere. As it materialised, England and Bentley never made Euro 2008.

He started in Fabio Capello’s first game in charge but his name barely warrants a mention when national squads are decided these days. Four years on from his ill-fated decision, Bentley may wish he’d opted to join the Under-21s that summer after all.

Fast forward to the present day and a similar quandary is facing Arsenal’s Jack Wilshere.

After a mammoth season which, like Bentley’s, has encompassed European excursions and lengthy cup runs, many feel Wilshere should not join the Under-21s this summer. In many respects, Wilshere’s situation is entirely different. Unlike Bentley, he is central to the senior team’s plans. Unlike Bentley, his attitude does not seem to be tainted by egocentricity. So there are even more excuses for Wilshere should he decide that a summer with the Under-21s is not high on his list of priorities.

And last night, the Guardian’s Paul Hayward, an advocate of a Wilshere withdrawal, tweeted saying the Under-21 squad was nothing more than a “development level”.

Well perhaps it can develop winners. With Wilshere in the team, England stand a far better chance of winning the tournament this summer. The nation is plagued by perennial problems when it comes to masterminding international tournaments and they lack a winning mentality.

The opportunity to nurture English football’s future lynchpin in the art of winning international tournaments should not be overlooked.  

Neither should the chance to build team camaraderie. Andy Carroll, Micah Richards and Kieran Gibbs should also all feature in 12 months time at Euro 2012 and their integration will be made much easier after this summer.

It is also refreshing to see fringe members of the senior squad, which has more than a streak of self-indulgence coursing through it, willing to participate in a tournament which was below Bentley.

Winning the European Under-21 Championships would probably be a drop in the ocean of Jack Wilshere’s career. But the ensuing ripples could continue to reverberate for years to come.

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  1. May 4, 2011 at 7:49 am

    Very good article…

    As an Arsenal fan, I’m firmly in the “withdrawal” camp. Or rather, I don’t think Pearce should have picked him in the first place.

    After several years of nurturing Wilshere into a top talent – looking after his interests on a personal and wider scale; making sure no one puts too much pressure on him and he doesn’t get burn out (despite playing 50 games this season in all comps), surely Arsene Wenger and his staff know what’s best for Jack Wilshere and know whether he can come through a lengthy (and rather pointless in my opinion) tournament in the Summer in addition to playing 50 games a season for Arsenal if needed, AND probable Euros in 2012. Even if he doesn’t go to the Euros for whatever reason, there’s little doubt (in my mind at least!)that he’ll be picked for Team GB for the Olympics instead.

    I believe Pearce himself said that his U21 team was about getting players ready to make the step up to the Senior Side – Wilshere’s already done that, so what’s he doing in the U21s? If it’s about breeding winners into the side and getting a group of players who in 2/3 years time could be one of the best groups in the world, then shouldn’t we think of the short-term as well? If he plays this tournament, then plays another full (as full as poss) season for Arsenal, what are the chances he’ll be 100% match fit for the Euros?

    It’s not like Pearce can’t win this tournament without him either; Josh MchEachran is a top talent, Muamba’s 23 and is in the squad, Jonjo Shelvey looks impressive, Henderson will be there too.

    If we’re doing comparisons, then a player you could make the opposite argument (to you, and to Bentley) for could be Theo Walcott. The season after he went to the U21 Championship, despite warnings from AW about burn-out, he flopped big time. The international stage, though as never been kind to Theo Walcott bar that one night in Zagreb so that example as its flaws as well.

    This isn’t to criticise you, or to disagree with anything/everything you’ve said; you made some good points, but that’s my personal view. Perhaps I’m biased – I’m an Arsenal fan & I probably would put the Gunners ahead of the International side but I don’t see the point in letting young players step up to the Seniors, then playing them again for the U21s.

    • May 7, 2011 at 10:03 am

      Thanks for the comment.

      I think it’s a bit unfair to ask Wenger to have the final say on Wilshere. If it was up to him I’m sure he’d have next summer off too. I’m sure club managers would much rather have their players have the entire summer off!

      I really don’t see that Wilshere’s at a massive risk of burnout. This is his first full season and he’s only 19. Did it harm the Spanish players who won Euro 2008, played in the Confederations Cup in 2009 and won the World Cup in 2010? Most of them had ridiculously long club campaigns with Barca in 2008 too. Yes, they have winter breaks but they’ve still got to cram in as many fixtures over the year.

      You have to consider if Walcott’s dip in form was a result of the burnout or a result of him failing to live up to expectations. It was probably a bit of both. He had last summer off and hasn’t really kicked on as Arsenal would have liked this year. I don’t see Wilshere having that problem personally.

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