Originally published in Give Me Sport – 31 May, 2016
It’s a bold and controversial person who chooses to pick injury-prone, season nonentity Jack Wilshere over title-winning, season superstar Danny Drinkwater – and Roy Hodgson has done just that.
However, it may be controversial, with plenty of debate brewing from Hodgson’s decision, but in reality, it was the correct decision.
Jack Wilshere, despite managing a total of three appearances for Arsenal this season, deserves to be at the 2016 Euros. He brings something unique to the England set-up; an ability no other player really possesses.
Wilshere has that special ability to carry the ball on dangerous runs that open up space and draw defenders in. He can also provide a killer pass when called upon. Sure, other midfielders can pass and run with the ball, but there’s something rare and exciting about Wilshere when he does this. When he picks the ball up, expectations rise.
The 24-year-old brings something that can’t be analysed with seasonal statistics. His awareness of the game is unparalleled and his ability to claw his way out of tight situations is next to none. His passing range is wide and his technique is varied – he can pass with either foot and with any part of the foot; his sublime outside-foot dink to play Marcus Rashford in, against Australia, a testament to that.
Wilshere is, above all, a potential game changer. He doesn’t lose the ball and he looks threatening every time he’s in possession. No other England midfielder offers the ability to dictate the tempo as he does and provide bursts of danger coming from the heart of the pitch.
With five minutes to go, in a quarter or semi-final, who are you going to look for to inspire a goal with a pinpoint pass or slaloming run – Drinkwater or Wilshere? His enchanting goal against Norwich City, in the 2013/14 season, proof alone of his ability to cast magic upon the pitch.
In comparison, Danny Drinkwater offers nothing of the sort.
Drinkwater’s season was impressive and saw him win the Premier League title – not to be scoffed at. His role, however, is something made almost redundant by international football and the players at Hodgson’s disposal.
The Manchester-born midfielder was pivotal in Leicester’s season – creating attacks by catapulting long-range passes for Shinji Okazaki and Jamie Vardy to chase. Let’s not diminish Drinkwater’s talents to that of ‘hit and hope’ or ‘long-ball tactics’ but, nevertheless, his long-range passing is an attribute more or less wasted in an international game.
Although deep passing is obviously an asset, one that Andrea Pirlo terrorised England with in both Poland-Ukraine and Brazil, Drinkwater hasn’t quite mastered it to the point that it splits defences open, especially not international defences.
Aside from his passing range, Drinkwater aided Leicester in ticking things over nicely. Small passes to the side, or behind, help slow a game down and control the momentum of the team in possession. This role, however, is one that any number of England’s players can fill – Jack Wilshere among them.
At the Stadium of Light, Drinkwater looked out of his depth against Australia. Melbourne City’s Aaron Mooy ran him ragged. Australia’s midfield had time on the ball and easily pressured Drinkwater into making the ineffective sideways pass.
Stronger oppositions, of which England will face in France, would exploit Drinkwater’s play and force Hodgson’s side deeper into their own half. Despite this, the cautiousness of a tournament would cause opposition defences to sit, wary of inviting a counter-attack, and thus render Drinkwater’s sharpest foil rather blunt.
A central midfield pairing of Wilshere and Eric Dier offers the best chance for England – Wilshere’s calming influence and attacking flair combined with Dier’s no-nonsense tackling and shield-like presence. This pairing, unfortunately, leaves no place for Drinkwater.
Overall, Danny Drinkwater does not deserve to be taken to the Euros over Jack Wilshere. His raw talent outweighs his potential for injury and lack of match-time this season.
Yet, the player stealing the title-winner’s spot is not the Arsenal midfielder. Any number of players could have been dropped in favour of Drinkwater and, in filling the role of perennial pessimist, this, to me, is the realest worry going into the tournament; not the absence of Leicester’s main man.