For a long-suffering Hammers fan, the close season often resembles a garden in the current heatwave; dry and discoloured with little chance of anything growing in scorched earth. But wait just a moment, Manuel Pellegrini has got a magic sprinkler and brought in new players to the tune of almost £100 million. The likes of Anderson, Yarmolenko and Diop all seem good acquisitions, but the standout is undoubtedly Jack Wilshere, Arsenal’s mercurial but injury-prone midfielder.
He looks perfectly suited to, what I assume will be, our fluent passing game. A bright, intuitive playmaker who could supply the killer pass that was so often missing last season. He could even be the number 10 that Joe Cole should have become at West Ham. But hey, let’s not get too ahead of ourselves, some critical analysis is required. Wilshere was not short of offers when Arsenal agreed to release him. Fenerbahce were ready to take him for an £8 million signing on fee and the guarantee of Champions League football.
Declining this offer shows he still has a point to prove. Wilshere also has a better chance of getting back into the England squad if he plays regularly in the Premier League, and he also has the opportunity of playing for the team he supported as a boy. Permission granted to raise your eyebrow and stroke your chin. But just for a change, we have a footballer who is not trying to manipulate the fans.
He really is one of us, as photos of him as a child wearing a West Ham shirt testify. His boyhood hero was Paolo Di Canio; another misfit who flourished at West Ham. History may well repeat itself, but is it wise to give him a three year contract? So what reasons do we have for not being cheerful? A broken leg, suspect ankle and dodgy hamstring are the lowlights for a player rightly dubbed ‘sick note’.
In all fairness his final season with Arsenal was relatively free of injury. When he played against West Ham last December, it was the first game in 18 months. It was also the first time Wilshere had successfully completed a 90 minute game in the Premiership since 2014.
Such milestones sow the seeds of doubt and he is a significant gamble by anyone’s standards. Yet Wilshere is still only 26 and not approaching anything close to his best form. I also expect a degree of maturity in his conduct. His contract will surely incorporate sufficient break clauses to protect the club’s investment, so I feel cautiously optimistic for his prospects.
Such is the life of a Hammers fan, the majority of my friends are Arsenal supporters, and it’s surprising how divisive a figure Wilshere has become. Some are glad to see the back of him, an overrated prima donna who has not looked after himself. Others lament the loss of an unfulfilled talent who might just have turned the corner.
Gooners have also complained he doesn’t score enough goals. Admittedly, 14 goals in 197 appearances is not a great return for a player of his attacking flair. Such a meagre appearance total is also indicative of his frequent absence, when he should really have clocked up at least 350 appearances over a 10 year period.
In his defence, Wilshere has been played in a variety of positions at a club dealing with Arsene Wenger’s five-year resignation letter. None of which are ideal conditions for a player to settle and thrive. Nevertheless, huge question marks hang over Wilshere and I sense he will be given little time to settle by West Ham’s increasingly voracious fans.
Reports suggest that Manuel Pellegrini has designed a fitness plan to ensure Wilshere avoids serious injury. The mind runs into dark corners at the suggestion, but inevitably means he will only play in a certain number of games.
It hardly seems satisfactory if he is being rested for half the season. There again, if he makes an impact when he does play I might just wind my neck in. Wilshere’s first appearance for the Hammers was in a friendly against Preston North End at Deepdale. He only played in the first half, but already the vultures are circling if social media provides any such indication.
According to some observers online clips only showed Wilshere playing the ball backwards. People are of course entitled to their opinion, but it is a touch premature to judge him on 45 minutes of a pre-season friendly.
The first game of the season at Liverpool will be a stern test of Pellegrini’s brave new world and all eyes will be on Jack Wilshere. A new manager and largely new line-up have got to come up with the goods this season.