Classy Wilshere looked like a Barcelona No 4 in the making

February 11, 2011

SOCCER-FRIENDLY/Scrunching up the eyes a bit, and using just a touch of imagination, watching Jack Wilshere on the ball for England against Denmark was almost like watching Xavi. It was quite a shock, in fact, to see a player in an England shirt pause, look up and think before picking out a team mate with a precise, considered pass.

Comparing Wilshere to the peerless Barcelona midfielder Xavi will be stretching it for some. I was pretty surprised, I must say, to read match reports on Thursday suggesting Wilshere had been a bit disappointing.

The conventional wisdom on Wilshere seems to be that Capello risks wasting his talent by playing him in such a deep role. Reporters in England clearly want to see Wilshere playing much closer to the opposition penalty area, wreaking havoc with his deft touch and eye for a pass.

The problem is that Capello’s England have a far more pressing problem than the need for a tricky midfielder to set up chances. As was made abundantly clear at the World Cup in South Africa, England must learn how to hold the ball with more assurance and for much longer periods of time if they are to mix it with the best.

Playing Wilshere as a deep-ish midfielder is a great start. Barcelona used to have Pep Guardiola playing just ahead of the defence, always available to take possession and pretty much always using it effectively with sharp passes, short or long. Xavi plays a bit further forward now but early in his career his game was modelled on that of Guardiola. Wilshere even wore Guardiola’s number four, synonymous with the Johann Cruyff-influenced passing style of Barcelona.

If Capello had half a dozen players as comfortable as Wilshere on the ball he could afford to play the Arsenal man as far forward as he liked. Given the lack of such players in the Premier League, he is best off sticking with Wilshere where he started on Wednesday, allowing England to hold possession and start building from the back.

Capello rarely gets much credit from England’s soccer reporters. This time, the Italian seemed to have got it right. 

PHOTO: England’s Jack Wilshere runs with the ball during their international friendly soccer match against Denmark at the Parken Stadium in Copenhagen, February 9, 2011. REUTERS/Phil Noble

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