End of a new beginning? Why this season is vital for the English Iniesta

Jack Wilshere: A future England captain according to Cesc Fabregas

Jack Wilshere: A future England captain according to Cesc Fabregas

This time last year, England fans were whetting their appetite of the prospect of the having an intricate artist of Tiki-Taka football emerging on their shores. He made a huge impact for a title-challenging side and produced a man-of-the-match display as his side stunned the pass-masters Barcelona in the Champions League.

Wind the clock twelve months forward though, and Arsenal’s Jack Wilshere hasn’t played a competitive game in over a year, and all that promise and magnificent talent seems all too distant at the moment. An ankle injury forced him to watch the entire 2011-2012 season from the sidelines, and a knee injury flared up to provide a further setback to his recovery.

He is now a doubt to start the 2012/13 campaign, and many Arsenal and England supporters will be hoping for a return to the level that saw him labelled as England’s next big star.

Wilshere was always touted for a successful career during his academy days, starring in reserve games, scoring fantastic goals and orchestrating play in the middle of the park. After a successful loan spell at Bolton Wanderers in the 2009/10 campaign, he toughened up and showed his outstanding ability to control games as a box-to-box midfielder and playmaker.

What followed would wow lovers of the English game and give them a new ray of hope amongst a great deal of criticism that followed a dismal 2010 World Cup campaign. Wilshere made more senior appearances than any other Arsenal midfielder in the 2010/11 season, earned the PFA Young Player of the Year award and proved instrumental in a Gunners side that looked to be challenging for three trophies until a bitterly disappointing Carling Cup Final defeat at the hands of Birmingham City.

His ability to retain the ball under intense pressure, find killer passes and make play flow with clever one-twos and slide rule passes was the closest many had seen to a replacement for former England international Paul Scholes, and perhaps the closest England had to a Xavi or Andres Iniesta-like player who can dominate games with the famous Spanish brand of ‘Tiki-Taka’ football.

Wilshere broke in to the English international team, making five appearances and looking fit to wear the shirt, but the real acid test came against Barcelona, where he played alongside soon-to-be Catalan player Cesc Fabregas in midfield, and was under massive pressure to stand his own against the most dominant midfield in world football.

Thinking big: Wilshere broke in to the England team last year

Thinking big: Wilshere broke in to the England team last year

Just 19 at the time and playing in his first Champions League knockout phase, you could forgive the prodigious talent for feeling the nerves of the occasion. But, despite Barcelona taking the early initiative and going 1-0 up with a David Villa strike, WIlshere wasn’t just going to lie down. He took the game by the scruff of the neck and, even though he had a World Cup winning playmaker alongside him, it was Wilshere himself who took the game to Barcelona, proved pivotal in Arsenal turning the match around and turned the most heads in a fine 2-1 victory at the Emirates. If there wasn’t any doubt already, a star was born.

If he does get back to his best this season, he will surely get even better and develop into a future England captain – a man who can inspire this transitional crop of England internationals to try and challenge for top honours and compete with the world’s big boys.

Even Cesc Fabregas claimed that Wilshere was a future England captain, and this was something that slightly softened the blow of his departure from the North Londoners last summer.

He’s a unique player, as far as English football goes. While the current England team are grinding out results and proving doubters wrong in this summer’s Euro 2012, Roy Hodgson’s side do seem to miss a player who can control the ball in midfield, boost possession and take the game to opponents frequently. Steven Gerrard and Scott Parker have been fantastic in this year’s European Championships, but they are both over 30 and players like Jack Wilshere will be called upon in the near future.

For the sake of the beautiful game, and the English game, it will be a huge shame if Wilshere suffers further setbacks and doesn’t fully recover from a blip in what has been an extremely promising start of his career. On the flipside, if he gets back to match fitness, he will be mentally stronger for this experience, and he could yet be England’s next Andres Iniesta. Sure, it’s unlikely that England will ever emulate Spain’s incredible wealth of talent or style of play, but a fully fit Jack Wilshere could be just the man to take this country forward.

This piece was written for the Own Goal Podcast. Click here for the link.

It’s also been published by online magazine Sabotage Times. Click here to read more.

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Photo Gallery: Behind the scenes at Lord’s Cricket Ground

In the build up to England’s first test against West Indies at Lord’s Cricket Ground this summer, I went behind the scenes at the Home of Cricket to see what really goes on during match days at the famous old ground. All these photos are images I captured personally to show spectators what they can look forward to.

From Caribbean Calypso bands and English Jazz musicians to Jamie Oliver’s Fabulous Feasts and Champagne galore at the Harris Garden, there is plenty to enjoy and experience at England’s top Cricket venue.

The full gallery, as published on Day One of the Test, is available on Flickr.

Click here to check out more exciting content at the official website of Lord’s.

Derek Brewer, MCC CEO, looks forward to first Test

Newly appointed MCC Chief Executive Officer Derek Brewer looks ahead to the first test of the summer at Lord’s, as England face West Indies.

This interview was for Lord’s TV’s live match day feed as England took on the West Indies at the Home of Cricket. Click here for the live match day link.

YCs help with Test preparation

MCC Head Coach and former England international Mark Alleyne speaks to Lord’s TV about the role of the MCC Young Cricketers in Test match preparation.

Alleyne is in charge of the MCC’s Young Cricketers’, which gives the platform for talented youngsters from around the globe to utilise the world class facilities and intensive playing opportunities at Lord’s Cricket Ground.

The MCC’s new generation have been bowling at the England and West Indies batsman, including former YC Darren Sammy, to gain invaluable experience and give the players ideal preparation ahead of the Test.

Alleyne, born and partly raised in West Indian nation Barbados, also assesses the chances of the tourists, who come to Lord’s after a valiant performance in a Test series against Australia.

Tickets for the Engand v West Indies Test match at Lord’s, starting on Thursday 17 May, are still available for each day’s play.

Sunday tickets can still be booked online, and there are tickets available on the day for each day’s play.

This feature was for Lord’s TV. Click here for the link.

How Lord’s gears up for a Test

Lord’s TV takes you behind the scenes as the Home of Cricket prepares for the Test match between England and the West Indies.

MCC Assistant Secretary Jon Robinson talks you through the work involved in the lead up to a major match, with exclusive insight into just what makes Lord’s the best place to watch Test cricket in the world.

From the preparation of the pitch, to the hospitality and food options available, to the famous book signers who meet-and-greet their fans during the Lunch intervals, coming to Lord’s is an experience like no other.

Tickets for the Engand v West Indies Test match at Lord’s, starting on Thursday 17 May, are still available for each day’s play.

Sunday tickets can still be booked online, and there are tickets available on the day for each day’s play.

This feature was for Lord’s TV in the build up to the test. Click here for the link.

John Barnes exclusive: England don’t match up to World Cup favourites

John Barnes won 79 caps for England

John Barnes won 79 caps for England

ENGLAND should not expect to win the FIFA World Cup this summer, according to legend John Barnes.

Barnes, who starred in England’s memorable run to the 1990 World Cup semi-finals, insisted that while Fabio Capello’s men “have a chance”, they don’t match up to favourites Spain and Brazil.

“Sometimes expectations are a little bit irrational. We shouldn’t expect to win the World Cup, “ said the former Liverpool player.

“We can win it with a bit of luck. Say if we play Brazil and they don’t perform and we play as well as we can, then we can do it. But if England are on top form and Brazil play at their best then, hand on heart, Brazil will probably win.”

The fitness of Manchester United star Wayne Rooney will be on the forefront of many fans’ minds as England look to bring 44 years without a major trophy to an end, but Barnes insisted Capello cannot solely rely on the fitness of Rooney or any individual.

He said: “Rooney is a very important player, but so is Steven Gerrard and others. One thing we can’t do, it’s a very English thing, is to pin all our hopes on one man. That’s a dangerous thing to do and a dangerous philosophy to have.”

“You have to  say: ‘We are England. We have the players to win, injuries or not’.“

Under Capello’s stewardship, England won all but one match as they comfortably finished top of their qualifying group to put Steve McClaren’s failed Euro 2008 campaign behind them.

Barnes thinks former Real Madrid boss Capello has done a good job.

He added: “Capello’s got the team playing consistently and maximised the potential of the team. But we’ve played Brazil and lost, played France and lost and played Spain and lost – however, on another day we can beat those teams.”

Barnes is adamant that the injury to Rooney, as well as Tottenham winger Aaron Lennon and Chelsea’s Ashley Cole facing a late rush for fitness and other off-the-field matters, shouldn’t affect the team’s preparation.

He said: “Preparation is a long way away.

“We were very quick in February and March to say ‘he should be in the squad’ and ‘we should pick him’.

“When you get to the first two weeks of May, that’s when you should look at who’s performing well and who’s fit. There is nothing like a long-term injury that should distract our preparation now.”

Barnes is re-filming his famous rap from the 1990 World Cup song ‘World In Motion’, by New Order – as part of a Mars Campaign to get fans singing the team on from home.

The former England man said that the fans vocal backing is crucial, even if it is in your local Pub or living room chair.

He said: “It inspires you. It’s obvious when you’re in the stadium with the fans there, but when you read the newspapers from England or see footage from home and see the passion that even non-football fans have it really helps.”

The chocolate brand is also offering 15 fans the chance to appear in the remaking of the song, which will be filmed next Tuesday. The rap will be in a 30-second TV advert, with a full version appearing online at http://www.marsbar.co.uk/

This was published on the Daily Express official website. The link can be found by clicking here.