Roy Hodgson believes Jack Wilshere deserves special dispensation as the injury-hit England midfielder is a “special player”.
This campaign, like so many before, has proved frustrating for the highly-talented 24-year-old, having been derailed by a broken leg towards the end of pre-season.
The long road to recovery meant Wilshere’s first start of the season came in Sunday’s season finale, playing 69 minutes as Arsenal thrashed rudderless, and relegated, Aston Villa 4-0.
It was a display Hodgson watched first-hand and led him to include the midfielder in England’s 26-man provisional squad for Euro 2016 less than 24 hours later.
There will be criticism in some quarters given his lack of fitness, and accusations of special treatment too, but Hodgson believes Wilshere is a special case.
As we wrote in our 16 Conclusions on the England squad: ‘This is no 2010 Gareth Barry. And a fit Wilshere is England’s finest central midfielder bar none. In eight England matches he has started since the World Cup of 2014, they have not lost a single game.
‘Played as the deepest man in midfield, Wilshere has been zealous in the tackle, excellent with the ball at his feet under pressure and quick to look forward in possession. Dier is capable of taking on some of Wilshere’s workload, and Drinkwater equipped to take on the rest, but there is no other English player who can replicate the job Wilshere has done for England.
‘Losing a year’s football may actually turn out to be a blessing for England once Wilshere has another three games under his belt ahead of Euro 2016. Hodgson has openly admitted that some have played too much football this season (naming no names, Harry) so he may be secretly pleased that at least one of his squad will be early-season fresh.’
Hodgson says: “Most of his injuries have been trauma injuries. I am not worried about him.
“Obviously, I think he is a real quality player. He ticks all the boxes.
“I had to ask myself certain questions. Is he actually fit now? Yes, he is fit.
“I had to ask myself if he is the type of player who brings something different to the team, a player we do not have an abundance of? The answer was yes.
“The third question, well, at top-level competition, in the qualifiers, has he performed? Has he done the job for us? Has he been a very good player? I think three man-of-the-matches in a row would answer that one.
“So, really, to select him in a group of 26 was a very easy thing to do.
“Would I have liked him to have actually been playing week-in, week-out for the Arsenal? Of course I would.
“Would I have liked Jamie Vardy, Harry Kane, Eric Dier to have played a few less games, and Chris Smalling to have had a bit of a rest at some stage of the season? Yes, I would.
“He is there on merit, he is a special player. We don’t have lots and lots of Jack Wilsheres available.
“There are other areas on the field where my choice is very great because players that we like and need in the team, there are quite a few of them and even a few outside the group who could have got in.
“For Wilshere, it is a bit different so he deserves the chance to show he is fit, capable of playing at the level he was playing for us in the autumn and I have got at least a couple of matches when I can test those things out as well as the training sessions.”
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Jordan Henderson was another player included despite doubts over fitness, but could play in Liverpool’s Europa League final against Sevilla having returned from a knee injury off the bench against West Brom.
Danny Drinkwater, James Milner and Fabian Delph are among the other midfielders in the 26-strong England squad, but there was no place for the experience of Michael Carrick.
Hodgson called the Manchester United midfielder to explain his decision, so too fellow high-profile absentees Theo Walcott and Phil Jagielka.
The latter dropped out of contention after the England boss decided to plump for just three out-and-out centre-backs, although defensive midfielder Eric Dier can slot into the backline.
It is a decision that allows more attacking players but also highlights the dearth of centre-back options compared to tournaments of the not-so-distant past, with John Terry, Rio Ferdinand, Sol Campbell and Jamie Carragher those selected a decade ago.
“We haven’t got those resources at our disposal today, albeit I believe Cahill, Smalling and Stones are good centre-backs,” Hodgson said when the quartet were mentioned.
“I also believe Jagielka is a good centre-back and I don’t want to do comparisons.
“But I do accept that’s a strong list from 2006. I wouldn’t call it as a crisis at centre-back at all, I believe the ones we have chosen are good enough.”
Terry is the only one of the aforementioned quartet still playing and one of few quality, left-sided English centre-backs.
“It is certainly something that we at the FA should think about,” Hodgson said. “We should really start targeting certain areas, left-sided centre-backs in particular.
“There’s no real left-sided centre-backs around, as you see a lot of other countries have. Maybe that’s something to think about when picking your Under-21, Under-20, Under-19 teams and hope we can develop somebody, but you are always at the mercy of the clubs.”