By Chris Jenkins (@ByChrisJenkins)
We’ve seen how Jack Wilshere can handle adversity.
Now let’s see how he handles success, and the praise that comes along with it.
That’s the beauty of big-time sports, isn’t it? We throw fairly immature kids, a 21-year-old in Wilshere’s case, into the middle of an unimaginable fishbowl of fan and media scrutiny. Their success and failure is judged in real time, in slow motion, by millions watching on worldwide television.
A lot of potential sports stars — or promising politicians, actors and other people in high-profile fields — seem to falter at some point. Some athletes fall short on the field, some fall short off the field and some fail in both areas. That’s not surprising, given how little leeway today’s stars enjoy in the age of instant and widespread social media analysis.
But a handful of humans are wired to thrive in these situations. These people somehow find a way to draw strength off of the wildly exaggerated levels of scrutiny and praise, and use that attention to drive themselves to get even better at whatever they do.
Is Wilshere one of those people?
It’s too early to say yes. It’s also too early to rule it out.
Wilshere seems to be getting better every week since returning from a nightmarish 14-month absence because of injury, an indication that he stayed focused and committed during his rehabilitation — something that sounds easy, but isn’t.
Strong and skilled on the ball, and no stranger to giving or getting hard fouls, Wilshere shows no signs of hesitation in the wake of his injury.
As it stands now, Wilshere is almost universally expected to ascend to the captaincy of Arsenal and England’s national team.
No big deal, right?
“The most important thing for me will be to keep his passion for the game, and keep the attitude of wanting to become a better player. If he keeps these two ingredients that are not always easy, he can of course become a fantastic player. He is already one, but he can become one of the best in the world.” – Arsene Wenger, via The Guardian.
England teammate Steven Gerrard went out of his way to praise Wilshere this week, saying, “He’ll get better and better than he is now, which is a scary thought. He has the potential to become one of the best in the world.” (via the Daily Express)
With Gerrard’s comments and other praise splashed on broadsheets, tabloids and social media posts across England, Wilshere didn’t wilt. He delivered a strong performance in the Three Lions’ victory over Brazil in a friendly on Wednesday.
That’s a small but significant sign that Wilshere can handle all the hype, that he can evolve into the elite player and leader that just about everybody expects him to be. But he still needs time and space to develop.
He’ll still have bad games from time to time, and needs leeway from fans.
He’ll keep getting kicked by opposing teams who want to get inside his head, and needs to avoid silly yellow cards as he learns how to avoid retaliating. He’ll have to figure all that out largely without the benefit of veteran teammates who can help him maintain perspective.
He also needs rest — and with so little margin for error in Arsenal’s pursuit of another top-four place, it’s not clear when Wilshere might get a chance to sit down.
And oh, by the way, he’s the clear-cut face of the franchise for a fed-up fan base that has had enough of trophyless seasons and players moving on to greener pastures.
Can a 21-year-old kid coming off a major injury handle all of that?
What a story. And we all get to watch it unfold.