Arsenal’s Jack Wilshere and Chelsea’s Josh McEachran will be rivals in this season’s Premier League, but together the teenage duo represent the future of English soccer.
Although they have only made 45 Premier League starts between them, Wilshere and McEachran are already being hailed as a new breed of English midfielder with the ability to fuse the country’s traditional qualities of tenacity and energy with a more cerebral approach.
The blueprint has been provided by Barcelona’s Xavi and Andres Iniesta, the diminutive playmakers who proved that size isn’t everything by taking central roles in their club’s dominance of domestic and European soccer, as well as inspiring Spain to World Cup glory.
Wilshere and McEachran possess the same slender frames as their Spanish counterparts and both show signs of being equally adapt with the ball at their feet.
It was Wilshere who burst onto the scene first, giving a tantalizing glimpse of his potential with Arsenal last season.
The 19-year-old convinced Fabio Capello that he could be the fulcrum of his England team with an astonishingly mature display in Arsenal’s Champions League second-round first-leg victory over Barcelona last season.
Wilshere may miss the start of the season because of an ankle injury but, with Cesc Fabregas still desperate to leave Arsenal, he is likely to be given more responsibility by Gunners boss Arsene Wenger over the course of the campaign.
McEachran has only one Premier League start to his name and just 17 career appearances, yet he has done enough in that short time to convince many astute judges that he has the ability to follow Wilshere’s rapid rise to prominence.
The 18-year-old idolized Zinedine Zidane when he first fell in love with the game and he plays with an elegance that suggests those hours watching the Frenchman on TV were time well spent.
McEachran, who recently signed a five-year contract worth ￡30,000 (US$49,000) a week, rightly avoids any comparisons with Zidane, but he is happier to name his pal Wilshere as the perfect figure to emulate.
“We speak quite a lot and text each other,” McEachran said. “We say good luck before we play. I watch most of his games, see how he’s doing and give him encouragement. Jack’s one of the best young players in the world. He’s done really well. Hopefully, I can do what he’s done.”
At Arsenal, Wenger hopes that Wilshere, midfielder Aaron Ramsey, 20, leftback Kieran Gibbs, 21, and goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny, 21, will play with a maturity that belies their tender years.
Liverpool boss Kenny Dalglish also has high hopes for his crop of youngsters, with defenders Martin Kelly, 21, John Flanagan, 18, and Jack Robinson, 17, all impressing toward the end of last season.