England’s eternal quest for footballing salvation picked up pace this week.
The thought of the recalled Jack Wilshere donning the jersey once again helped ignite senses dulled by decades of disappointment.
Supporters, used to the exasperating sight of Jordan Henderson and Eric Dier playing like pygmies when a midfield giant is required, all cherish memories of a boy wonder who tore through Barcelona’s Xavi and Andres Iniesta in 2011.
They embrace thoughts of not seeing as vibrant a breakthrough in the engine room since Paul Gascoigne all the way back at World Cup 1990.
Hope is in short supply when it comes to England – and recollections of what Wilshere promised provide it in spades.
Yet as with all things related to the Three Lions, reality provides unwelcome deflation.
After years of injury that chipped steadily away at his ability, Wilshere’s last cap came when given the entire second half to avoid disgrace and damnation against Iceland at Euro 2016. He, along with manager Roy Hodgson, duly sunk without trace.
When taken in isolation, a return of two assists and one goal in the 2017/18 Premier League hardly inspires.
It is evidence that a once-great talent has suffered insurmountable arrested development.
Characteristic penny-pinching, alone, from manager Arsene Wenger does not account for the 25-per-cent pay cut offered to extend his rapidly expiring Arsenal contract.
Move beyond the Wilshere wonderment and a figure of greater contemporary importance is now under Gareth Southgate’s supervision at St George’s Park.
Someone for whom thoughts of creative expression and notable influence are not as sepia tinged.
Adam Lallana’s 2017/18 is best remembered so far for a red card when the red mist descended during a reserves run-out for Liverpool against Tottenham.
A long-term thigh injury picked up during pre-season has restricted him to just 214 minutes of action in the Premier League. This stunted run includes just one start in January 1’s 2-1 win at Burnley, and no goals or assists.
Not exactly auspicious signs for what lies ahead with the tournament in Russia looming large.
But 2016’s England Player of the Year remains the key figure for this summer. No one within the ranks can spark imaginations like him.
With his last cap coming in a 3-2 defeat to France last June, it’s imperative that minutes are logged on Friday in the Netherlands and on Tuesday versus Italy.
43 - Jack Wilshere scored his first goal in his last 43 Premier League games, since netting v West Brom in May 2015. Timely.— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) January 3, 2018
We are talking about a conductor that when fit in recent years troubled World Cup holders Germany and struck against Spain.
The decision to substitute him for the final 30 minutes of the last group game at Euro 2016 against Slovakia saw a slovenly England labour to a draw that killed all momentum. He staggeringly then sat out the Iceland debacle – unlike Wilshere.
A delightful 2016/17 saw a top-flight career-best seven assists and eight goals notched for Liverpool.
Critically, Lallana has that intangible ability to ‘make a team tick’. His dynamism out of possession and rapier ability to cut through teams on the counter-attack makes him the embodiment of Jurgen Klopp’s ‘gegenpress’.
It cannot just be coincidence that his unavailability has led the German to tune down his trademark approach this term.
Lallana also possesses the rare propensity among his compatriots to appear at ease on the international stage.
This is not something that can be said of Dier or Henderson. Even luminaries such as former club-mate and Liverpool icon Steven Gerrard, or Manchester United’s revered Paul Scholes.
These next seven days will give England an insight into what they’ve missed. And it will not be Wilshere.
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