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Jack Wilshere: ‘In hindsight it probably wasn’t right to leave Arsenal’ | Jack Wilshere

When Jack Wilshere was plotting his next move, the prospect of reaching another FA Cup semi-final and ultimately adding to his two winners’ medals were the kind of things that had him licking his lips. “Watching the FA Cup in my house was always big and, growing up a West Ham fan, I remember when they got to the final and lost – Stevie G scored a banger,” he says, recalling Steven Gerrard’s display for Liverpool in 2006. “It was my dream to play in it, let alone be lucky enough to win it twice.”

Bournemouth, for whom Wilshere signed in January until the end of the season, are the only team outside the Premier League left in a competition that carries fond memories for a midfielder who lifted the Cup with Arsenal in 2014 and 2015. Where does his mind first go when reliving those moments? “To the parties after,” he says, laughing, with that cheeky grin.

“It was always a special tournament at Arsenal. I played in it from when I was 17 and I always had a special feeling when the FA Cup came round because, especially if we played against a lesser team in the early rounds, the manager [Arsène Wenger] would always play young players. This is a bit different for me because at Arsenal, 95% of the time you are the favourite coming into any FA Cup tie but I feel we probably go into this game as the underdog.”

Bournemouth host their neighbours Southampton, who won the Cup in 1976, on Saturday lunchtime hoping to reach the last four for the first time. Before returning to Bournemouth, Wilshere was the subject of interest from Major League Soccer, the Middle East and Mick McCarthy, who hoped to take him to Cyprus with Apoel Nicosia. Wilshere was open to a fresh challenge overseas but equally determined to prove himself in his homeland.

“I don’t feel like I’m coming towards the end of my career. I mean, I know I’ve been around for ages but I am only 29 and, while I am not a young player any more, I still feel like I have got a lot to give in any team. I’m still hungry and go into training every day with the same attitude as I did when I was 20 or 21. I want to get in the team, stay in the team, and I know you have to train right and live right, and I feel like I’m doing that.”

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Jack Wilshere celebrates after scoring for Bournemouth against Birmingham last month.
Jack Wilshere celebrates after scoring for Bournemouth against Birmingham last month. Photograph: Robin Jones/AFC Bournemouth/Getty Images

Wilshere, who left West Ham by mutual consent in October, feels he has unfinished business at Bournemouth after a broken leg cut short a fruitful loan four years ago. Although injuries have taken their toll, he has long since shut out the noise. “I know where my body is and only I know where my body is – no one else, and that’s including the physios, doctors, managers, anyone. I’m honest with myself, I give myself the best opportunity and if there’s one thing I have taken from it, it is to listen to your body more and respect it. I’ve learned, probably the hard way, what my body can and can’t do.”

Once one of England’s most prodigious talents, does Wilshere, whose last cap came at Euro 2016 in that ignominious defeat by Iceland, wonder what might have been with another major tournament on the horizon? “Not really. I lived a kid’s dream of playing for their country and I was lucky enough to represent my country at two major tournaments. The one that probably hurt was missing out on the 2018 World Cup because I felt like I had done enough to get into the squad.

“Listen, managers have different ways of thinking and it’s down to them to pick the team. And the team went on to have a successful tournament. Before that tournament I was a little bit angry and upset, but as soon as it started I was like any other England fan, supporting the team. They have a really good group of young players coming through and you can see what the manager is trying to do. I wish them all the best and leading into the summer I think we have a really good opportunity of being successful. I’ll just concentrate on myself and try to show everyone what I can do.”

Wilshere sees shades of the youngster who announced himself on the biggest stage at Arsenal in Phil Foden, arguably England’s outstanding talent. “For me, he has played himself not into just the squad … but he has to start. He wants to take the ball in tight areas and he is probably better when he is marked, and that is strange to say, but it shows how good he is. I’m not saying he is going to be as good as Lionel Messi, but the way he moves with the ball, drawing players in and beating them, reminds me a lot of Messi.”

Jack Wilshere, pictured in action against Derby, believes he is most effective in a deeper position.
Jack Wilshere, pictured in action against Derby, believes he is most effective in a deeper position. Photograph: Robin Jones/AFC Bournemouth/Getty Images

Wilshere’s tigerish performance against Barcelona 10 years ago, when the teenager went home with the shirts of Xavi and Andrés Iniesta, remains his pièce de résistance but there is still debate about his best position. “I feel like I can give more to the team if I’m in a deeper position,” says Wilshere. “I haven’t just started thinking it because I remember having conversations with Arsène about it, me telling him I want to play deeper and he told me he sees me as a No 10.”

Nowadays Wilshere, who leaned on Cesc Fàbregas for advice after breaking into the team at Arsenal, is a senior voice in a youthful Bournemouth dressing room, which struck the now head coach, Jonathan Woodgate, as quiet when he arrived in February. “There are a lot of young players and even when you get to a game and you open up the programme to have a read and I look at the ages of the players, and it’ll say ‘born in 1999 or born in 2000’ … which is mad,” Wilshere says.

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His artistry is synonymous with Arsenal but, following their divorce three years ago, does he ever find it tough to watch his former club? “It’s gone now, that feeling that I could still be there. I decided to leave, whether it was right or wrong. At the time it felt right, and probably in hindsight it wasn’t right but it is what it is. I am like any Arsenal fan now – and it is difficult to watch them because sometimes they make it difficult to watch – but I feel like they are on the right path with Mikel [Arteta] as manager. You can really see what they are trying to do. If they could find a little bit more consistency, I think they will get a lot of success under him because they have the manager’s respect and he has the right philosophy. It is coming, I think, slowly.

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“I remember when I was a player – and I’ve got a lot of Arsenal friends and family around me – and I always remember them saying: ‘It’s difficult to be an Arsenal fan.’ Now I know what they mean! Now it is strange but I still feel like it is part of me. Yes, they can be tough to watch at times, but I am really optimistic about the end of this season but more towards next season; [Bukayo] Saka has been doing it for a year now and Emile Smith Rowe has come in. I look at these players and see myself because they have been at the club for so long and they know what it means. You can guarantee that when they go on the pitch they know what it means to be playing for Arsenal and are going to give everything. They have got some real quality as well.”

Jack Wilshere enjoys Arsenal’s FA Cup victory parade in 2015.
Jack Wilshere enjoys Arsenal’s FA Cup victory parade in 2015. Photograph: Scott Heavey/PA

He is diplomatic about whether Bournemouth could become his permanent home – “Let’s be honest, the question mark about me has always been my fitness” – and, down the line, is considering following his former teammates Arteta, Wayne Rooney, Steven Gerrard, and Thierry Henry into management. Wilshere plans to enrol on the Uefa A licence after doing the B alongside Per Mertesacker, now the academy manager at Arsenal.

“I was coaching under-14s, 15s, and 16s at Arsenal and really enjoyed that. The more I’ve worked with different managers and picked up good and bad things, I feel I can help at a first-team level. It is something that is in the back of my head. I do think I have something to give.”

For now the focus is on helping Bournemouth to secure promotion and writing more memories to treasure. “To win the biggest domestic cup competition in England was a dream come true and they are memories I will have for ever with my family. Two of my kids [Archie and Delilah] have seen me win two FA Cups at Wembley and now I’ve got two other kids [Jack Jr and Siena]. I’d like to give them some memories as well.”

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