JACK WILSHERE has made his peace with no longer being a player.
He was, of course, one of the most gifted midfielders of this generation — before injuries cruelly cut short his career.
So now Wilshere has become a Sun World Cup columnist, who will be giving readers the benefit of his knowledge from competing on the biggest stages for Arsenal and England and learning the ropes as a fledgling coach at the Emirates.
Still only 30, a fully-fit Wilshere would probably have been in Qatar. But he’s not bitter, he’s philosophical about how life has turned out.
Yet Wilshere still looks back on his England career wondering what might have been, with a plea to the current squad to make this opportunity count.
Wilshere said: “In 2018 when I was watching the World Cup on TV I was thinking, ‘I should have been there.’ It was difficult viewing.
“I was close to selection and fit when Gareth picked the squad — but I’d got an injury during one of the earlier camps, which would have been the chance to show him what I could do. I still feel I should have gone though. But I’ve accepted I’m finished with playing.
“I’ve got my head around it, I’m just concentrating on coaching and loving it.
“Earlier in the season we played Tottenham and I was sat thinking about the game and how we would play, then one of my coaches asked if I missed being out there playing and I actually realised that I didn’t.
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“I don’t get that feeling any more. That’s credit to the Under-18 team I’ve been working with, they’re top, they give everything — they make me think and challenge me.
“Arsenal are doing so well now and I’m there in the directors’ box with my boss Per Mertesacker.
“We are talking about the game and what we need to do to get our Under-18 players to that level.
“My thought process is completely different to when I was a player.”
Wilshere recalls when he knew the game was up for him on the field.
He had gone to Denmark to try and resurrect his career after spells at Bournemouth and West Ham — but realised he was kidding himself that he could recover and get back to being the midfielder he once was.
Wilshere added: “If I’m honest my body completely gave up in Denmark, which was really frustrating. People were looking at me and I wanted to show them what I was about.
“I could still see the pictures in my head but my body wouldn’t allow me to get round the pitch to react to those images. It was mainly my ankle but I had a few problems with my knee as well. Strangely, since I stopped playing my ankle and knee are starting to feel good. Now it’s my back which is giving me problems!”
A World Cup brings back bitter-sweet memories for Wilshere.
He was chosen by Roy Hodgson for the 2014 tournament in Brazil — but England were out after two games having lost to Italy and Uruguay.
His experience tells him that it is vital England start well in their opener against Iran on Monday, otherwise the campaign can unravel very quickly and stress levels go through the roof.
He remembers how the pressure affected Hodgson and the captain Steven Gerrard, who quit the national team.
Wilshere said: “When I went off to the World Cup it was a dream come true.
“Then I was given the No 7 shirt which was David Beckham’s, who was my hero growing up, and it couldn’t have been better. But I didn’t start the first game, I just came on as we lost to Italy.
“Then I didn’t feature in the Uruguay defeat and, by the time I played in the third match against Costa Rica, we were already out. And we had prepared what I thought was so well for the Italy match.
“We even went for warm-weather training in Portugal, wore big coats and bin bags to acclimatise for the humidity in Manaus, we put a lot of importance on that game.
“But we were told to let Andrea Pirlo have the ball because, although he was a gifted player, his legs had gone. What a mistake that was. He was the best player on the pitch, we couldn’t get near him.
“You could feel pressure building up after Italy — and could see the stress in the manager’s eyes. It’s tough being in the camp when it’s going wrong.
“Then we lost the game against Uruguay that we couldn’t really afford to lose and Stevie G gave a goal away when he headed it on to Luis Suarez for their winner.
“Like Beckham, Stevie G was an idol of mine, so to be in the same England World Cup squad as him was a big thrill — but I ended up feeling so sorry for him.
“He was our captain and leader of the group. He had been fantastic with me but, after that game, the energy just drained away from him.
“We were out and he’d given a goal away. He wasn’t really a loud type, he led by the examples he set.
“Me, Danny Welbeck and Luke Shaw had watched him as one of England’s best players as we grew up. We looked up to him.
“However, you could see in his demeanour that he was very low and it was tough to see your leader like that. He’d been through it before at World Cups and this was the end for him.
“So my overriding feeling was I felt sorry for him, I really did. But that’s what tournaments like this can do to you.
“All fans are focused on it, the pressures are huge — and starting well is so important to build momentum.
“Hopefully for our captain this time it will be a happy story.
“I don’t want to be writing about England disappointment, I want to be telling Sun readers how England won it.”