As we head into the first international break of the Premier League season, the pressure on both players and managers is already beginning to intensify. Many of the world’s most acclaimed coaches are employed by teams in the division, and with the ‘big six’ regarding qualification to the Champions League as a bare minimum, at least two managers will face an inevitable fall from grace. For the players, it’s arguably even worse. In a year running up to the World Cup, they know they are not just competing for their clubs, but to secure their seats on the plane to Russia. As it stands, some England stars are in danger of being left at home.
Take Jack Wilshere and Ross Barkley. A few years ago, the plan was to build England’s 2018 World Cup squad around them – now they are yesterday’s men. It is too easy to forget the potential they were once considered to possess, so here is a reminder.
Last year Wilshere was loaned out to Bournemouth to give him the opportunity to prove those who doubted his fitness and his quality wrong. However, he failed to stand out in the Cherries’ squad, leaving Arsenal, the club who had nurtured him for so long, feeling ambivalent about his return. Likewise, following Barkley’s refusal to sign a new contract, Everton manager Ronald Koeman has frequently reiterated that the club are willing to sell the player.
Both players are yet to be named in the squad for either of their club’s league fixtures this season. Wilshere is now 25 years old and Barkley is 23. Regardless of their vaunted reputations, at their ages they need to be playing football. Before the midfielders seek pastures new though, it is perhaps wise to take a look at the fate of another unwanted England player: Manchester City reject Joe Hart. After spending a season in Serie A on loan, Hart continued to be short of offers. Eventually he signed for West Ham, who are now bottom of the league after conceding 10 goals in three games.
In their search for game time and status, Wilshere and Barkley must look before they leap – their next move may well define their careers.