Friday, August 31, 2012

Wilshere – Return of the Prodigal Son

By Vidur Kalive.

Over the last couple of decades, the Premier league grew to become arguably the best football league in the world. This reputation was backed by scores of foreign world class players taking to the field for English football’s most successful clubs. While clubs in the premier league threw their money away on experienced players from different corners of the world, Arsene Wenger chose to give the future of the sport more attention. Arsenal and Arsene Wenger became renowned for giving budding footballers a chance to showcase and bid their talent against the best players in the world. Wenger stood by his ways and beliefs in the face of criticism and this adamant coaching style of his, has given the Premier League and world football some true class acts. 

The last few years made it really difficult for Gooners to stick by Arsene’s way of coaching as the product of the youth academy started to pour out of Emirates into what they thought were greener pastures. From this batch of talented youngsters came a boy of 16 years who made his debut for the London club in 2008 and caught the eye of the footballing world. Jack Andrew Garry Wilshere came through Arsenal’s youth academy as part of Arsene Wenger’s signature coaching style. His debut against Blackburn in September 2008 at the age of 16 years and 329 days, questioned Wenger’s managerial abilities. Critics felt that Arsenal’s chances of winning were at risk if the Frenchman continued to misplace his trust in youth and not in experience. 

Wenger and his crop of young talent soon proved everybody wrong. After a loan spell at Bolton in 2009-10, Jack came back the next season to the Emirates with a surge in experience which Wenger believed would boost Arsenal’s chances as title contenders. This was a critical period for the club which was still financially trying to cope with the move to their new stadium, a move which depleted the coffers significantly. This lead to a heart breaking decision which saw the Gunners sell members of the historic Invincibles squad to bridge the gap between the columns of their balance sheets. This saw experienced players of the likes of Mathieu Flamini, Alexander Hleb, Gilberto Silva and Lassana Diarra leave the club the previous summer. It was at this critical juncture when we saw Arsene Wenger introduce youngsters such as Jack Wilshere, Nicklas Bendtner, Kieran Gibbs, Wojciech Szczęsny and Johan Djourou to the world, who came through the ranks to take up the mantle. 

The Barclays Premier League season 2010-11 announced the arrival of Arsenal’s youth brigade. Wilshere & Co. showcased Arsenal’s fast flowing style in England and Europe alike while the club saw another batch of veterans such as Senderos, Eduardo and Campbell leave. This was a breakthrough season for Jack as he featured in the season ending PFA Team of the Year along with team mates Samir Nasri and Bacary Sagna, and was awarded the prestigious PFA Young player of the year. Just when it was evident Arsenal had harvested its crop of young talent, some of the players put personal ambitions ahead of loyalty to the club that helped them realize their true potential. Nasri and Fabregas left the club the following year for Manchester City and Barcelona respectively. While some gooners could make peace with Fabregas returning home to Spain, it was hard for the fans to lose one of their good players to bank breakers, Manchester City, who made Nasri’s wallet thicker as they lured him to the Etihad. To make matters worse for Arsenal’s midfield, Wilshere suffered a stress fracture against the New York Red Bulls which ruled him out for the entire season.

Last season saw Arsenal finish third, while hopefuls believed the finish would have been higher if players stuck to the club. Wenger’s woes continued as a trophy less season saw the club lose their skipper Robin Van Persie to rivals Manchester United and Alex Song to Barcelona, a move which deteriorated the midfield further. If there is one thing we have learnt over the years it is this - The Gunners can be hit, but they can never be defeated. The persistence and perseverance of Arsene Wenger and the red side of North London is what keeps the club in the fight. Ask a staunch football fan and he will tell you, a club is always bigger than an individual. As the so-called iconic players left, a new batch has arrived at Emirates. With Podolski all set to fill Van Persie’s shoes, Arteta, Cazorla and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will try to hold the midfield for the fast pace of the Arsenal game. To put the smiles back on, Arsene Wenger’s prodigal son is all set make his comeback at some point of this season which makes their contention for the title, only imminent. Wilshere’s addition into the midfield will assure good service to Podolski and mark the beginning of a new chapter for the Gunners. How we would love to see the Big Four fight it out against each other again - to watch the boxing day clashes, see Premier League clubs dominate the champions league. If Arsenal can forget the past and start afresh with the current which showcases some world class talent, we will see history overtake modern day riches, which has clearly spoilt the game! 


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