Jack Wilshere admits he lacks the coaching experience of others but he’s confident his background as a graduate of the Arsenal Academy will stand him in good stead in his new role leading the club’s under-18s.
The Gunners confirmed Wilshere’s appointment yesterday just days after the 30-year-old confirmed the end of his playing career.
The former England international hung up his boots after a low-key spell with Danish side Aarhus having spent the months before that working on his fitness alongside Mikel Arteta’s first team squad.
It was during that period at London Colney that Wilshere, with a helping hand from Per Mertesacker and Luke Hobbs, renewed his interest in coaching, often assisting sessions with the under-16s and under-17s.
The experience proved invaluable.
In an interview with Arsenal.com, he said: “I always had coaching in the back of my mind, but then I came back here last year and I was doing it full-time for six months, and the more I learnt about it, the more it intrigued me.
“I’m the first to admit that I probably haven’t got the experience that a lot of coaches have out there, but I have got experience of walking in the players’ footsteps, coming through the academy and making it into the first-team.
“I think first and foremost I need to focus on myself here, learning how to be a coach, but I think when you’ve got ambition and you’re hungry, it helps you learn quicker and ultimately you help the kids.”
Wilshere’s remit won’t be confined to the training pitch. Under Mertesacker’s watch an emphasis has been placed on creating a holistic environment that raises well-rounded people, not just footballers.
Given the spotlight that was on him from a young age, the pressures that came with being in the public eye and the struggles he endured with injuries, Wilshere is well-placed to highlight both the highs and lows of being a footballer even though he’s still processing them himself.
More than anything, you sense he’s driven by a desire to pay back the confidence that Arsenal have shown in him.
“Still being relatively young, I didn’t expect my playing days to be done at this age, but when you get an opportunity like this given to you, it’s hard to turn down,” he said.
“Per [Mertesacker], Luke [Hobbs] and the whole of the club have been amazing. They’ve shown confidence in me, and I’m really happy and excited for the new chapter.
“It’s a special feeling to be part of the Arsenal family. It never left me, and even though I moved on for a few years, my heart was always still at Arsenal. When I think of a family, family is always there for you no matter what. Even if you leave, the door is always open and I always felt that when I came back here.”
Speaking at the launch of a new documentary about Hale End, Mertesacker told Hayters about why Wilshere got the gig.
“He just retired from his playing career which was amazing,” said the German.
“I was part of that, I was really lucky to play with a super talented boy that was promoted from the Academy to the first team. He’s had a major career so to get him to coach our youngsters now is a brilliant story.
“From what I’ve seen of him in six months coaching the boys in the Academy to his connection with the staff and the players, it’s been amazing. I was onto him and got him into a position where he would retire for that kind of new job.”
He added: “It’s super important for us to keep that [Arsenal] DNA. Within the under-18s, we have Jack Wilshere, Adam Birchall, Julian Gray; three coaches who have experienced the whole journey. Obviously, Jack being the under-18s coach, Arsenal is in him, he wants us to do well.”
Mertesacker clearly feels the onus is on him to give backroom opportunities to ex-players as Arsene Wenger once did for him. The World Cup winner was announced as the new head of the academy before he’d turned 34.
“The transition from playing to coaching or whatever is not easy for every single footballer,” continued Mertesacker.
“I was fortunate that I had a person and a mentor like Arsene Wenger to trust me with that next step, now I’m in a position where I can give opportunities to players who are willing to make that step. To make that happen for Jack makes us proud as a club.
“We – Edu, Mikel, myself – were so involved in the process. We want to help him, support him and the support staff in the Academy, the head of coaching, Luke Hobbs, they were fantastic throughout the process. They wanted to make it happen, they know how powerful it is but they know how much support you will need as well. Everyone will sacrifice for Jack being a success.”