Jack Wilshere has welcomed his return to the England fold after the injury-induced hiatus to his fledgling career and, even in defeat, was left encouraged by his first taste of life at this level under "an English manager" in Roy Hodgson.
The Arsenal midfielder's late cameo in the 4-2 defeat by Sweden in Stockholm represented his first involvement for his country since draw with Switzerland at Wembley in June 2011. A serious ankle injury, and subsequent knee complaint, had left him on the sidelines ever since with his reintegration at club level to date amounting to three first-team appearances and four run-outs in the development squad.
"It's been great to be back," said Wilshere having spent three days with the England squad prior to that 28-minute appearance at the Friends Arena. "It's a whole new squad, a whole new manager, new coaching staff, and it's been great to be back around them and see how they want to work with me. It's totally different to when the other manager [Fabio Capello] was in and I like it. It's an English manager and it's good that he knows the history and everything. It's good to be around an English manager. I'm glad I came. It's a pleasure to play for England and I will never say no."
The midfielder's first five caps had been gained under Capello, a manager who had invested considerable faith in the 20-year-old's ability and handed him a debut against Hungary in the first friendly fixture after the disappointing 2010 World Cup finals. In that context Wilshere's comments appear less of a criticism of the previous regime and more a reflection of his enthusiasm at life under Hodgson, who has already suggested he will grant the youngster time to recover his form and fitness in the hope he can play a key role in qualifying for Brazil 2014.
"I'm getting there: I don't feel 100% yet and everyone can see that," said Wilshere. "But I'm getting there and feel better and better as every game goes on. I need to get some games under my belt and properly get back into the swing of things and we see where we go. It's just great to be back. To spend 17 months on the sidelines is tough for anyone and it's hard to see everyone go out training and then to go and watch games at the Emirates Stadium. It would be tough for anyone. But to be back playing is great.
"With England it was just as frustrating. It had all happened quite quickly – I got five caps in a year where, before that, I hadn't been involved in anything. Now I hope I can go on and win more caps. Sharpness comes with games and this is like my pre-season basically. Small things, like being in the right position when the ball drops in midfield, will come. I'm feeling better and better with every game. This is all new to me – it was my first long-term injury – but I'm sure everyone will notice when I'm back to my best."
There was praise, too, for Steven Gerrard's achievement in achieving his 100th cap in Stockholm, with the Liverpool and England captain an inspiration for the young pretender. "Any young English midfielder would look up to someone like that, especially his long passing and his vision," added Wilshere. "For me, he is one of the best midfielders in the world. He still is, and he has been at the top of his game for eight or nine years. He is definitely to look up to and it's great to have him around the squad.
"He talks to me, on and of the pitch, and Sweden was the first time I've played with him. So it's a pleasure to play with someone like that. You can see he is naturally fit. He has got a good build and he is still running 12-13 kilometres a game, he's box to box, and if you ask him to play 90 minutes or 120 minutes, as you saw in the Euros, he can still do it. What he has managed is a great achievement."
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image: © Ronnie Macdonald