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Something is coming. Behind all the usual clamour, chunter, chirrup and counter-chirrup of the Premier League, behind the t-shirts and the armbands, behind the race rows, the protests, and the patronising bromides of the old, white men that make up the English football establishment, there is a whisper, faint but insistent, and growing stronger.
In the corridors of Wembley, pens are being pushed with extra vigour. Overseers and coordinators have a twinkle in their eye and a spring in their step. Roy Hodgson has suddenly noticed the beauty of the light catching the autumn leaves. Trevor Brooking has been telling that story about how he once scored a header with a newfound fervour and glee. Stuart Pearce had an extra Digestive this morning.
In north London, reports of strange happenings. Clumps of journalists have bloomed at reserve games, drawn from their usual haunts by the rumours of a miracle. The apple of Arsène Wenger's eye has risen from his bed, put his boots on, picked up his bed, put his bed down again (since you can't really play football if you're holding a bed), and now walks among us again.
Jack Wilshere's back, baby!
Absence, so they say, or at least, so we are told they say, even though we're not told who they are, or what their agenda is, or who they are funded by, makes the heart grow fonder. But when it comes to football, the usual trick is for absence to skip the heart and goes straight to the brain, ramming into the centre of thought like an evening spent in the company of alcohol plus fruit juice plus loneliness: He's gone. Wasn't he great? I miss him. How great was he? Really, really, really great. Remember that time he did that thing? And that other thing? And ... falls off chair.
It's only natural. Look what used to happen to Joe Cole every time he spent a month in the treatment room. Injured players don't have to expose themselves to the messy business of actually trying (and so frequently failing) to play as well as they can. Instead, they sit ruefully on the sidelines, their talent swelling with every misplaced pass and ill-timed tackle that mars the scrum beneath them. Reputation, like Anderson, expands to fill available space.
With Wilshere, though, nobody wants to get ahead of themselves. Fires are being banked. There's no international tournament on the immediate horizon, and so the two-year cycle of collective national hysteria is at its lowest ebb. (It also helps that England are playing like a damp flannel.) Despite the usual giddy fits at the back and confidences crises up front, Arsenal can at least say that the midfield is more-or-less functional. All things considered, there couldn't be a less demanding time for Wilshere to make his return, and this, for those that give one, is a Very Good Thing.
England have just unveiled an eleventy-squintillion pound training complex inside an abandoned volcano near Burton that will, so they say, in the fullness of time and via some unspecified cultural osmosis, produce players exactly like Wilshere. Intelligent. Technical. Imbued with an inchoate and occasionally hilarious pride in St George and the nation St George never visited in his life. This in turn will beget a brave new England, a national team that can stand alongside those tricksy foreign types without having to cling to the faint hope that This Lot, unlike all the other Lots, actually don't like It up Them.
But Wilshere's here already (or he will be back here soon, maybe, if everything goes to plan, perhaps). And for all that he's still an unpolished and incomplete prospect, a mere 83 games into his career, he's an opportunity for England and their fans to have a little taste of the future now. That's why his return demands not the usual currents of Hype (and its inevitable follow-ups Disappointment and Backlash), but something sweeter, purer, and altogether more healthy: Hope. His injury-free gambol through a few reserve fixtures and the unexpected place on the bench for Arsenal's brainfart against Norwich will doubtless be followed by setbacks, by slumps, by disappointments and doubts. But for once, there's a little bit of time. There's room, perhaps, for patience.
Let's just hope that he doesn't come back, play well for a while, then snap something important two months before Brazil 2014. Then we'd learn new lessons in hysteria.