Fifteen years ago, at the start of 2007, Steve Bould oversaw training with Arsenal’s U18s and saw a little diamond.
“I remember him coming in and nutmegging someone in the middle of the pitch,” the former Gunners youth team coach recalls to Sky Sports. “He was only just 15.”
That young teenage star went by the name of Jack Wilshere. A year later, he had made his Arsenal first-team debut and led the Gunners to the FA Youth Cup in the calendar year after that.
The same Wilshere would work under Bould – who became Arsene Wenger’s assistant manager in 2012 – in the senior squad, make nearly 200 appearances for the Gunners and represent England at two major tournaments.
“It was the first time I experienced someone a little bit special,” says Bould. “He made his debut at 16 and we couldn’t have been more excited as a coaching staff and the whole academy. He played against the great Barcelona team and I believe even they were talking about him!”
But Wilshere’s well-known injury issues would go on to hold him back. The midfielder, who made his England debut aged 18, never really recovered from long-term ankle problems sustained in 2011 and 2014 – leading to his departure from the club four years ago.
Jack Wilshere’s injury nightmare
- Ankle injury: November 2009 – 12 days – 4 games missed
- Sprained ankle: July 2011 – 56 days – 10 games missed
- Ankle surgery: September 2011 – 127 days – 25 games missed
- Fatigue fracture: February 2012 – 104 days – 19 games missed
- Knee surgery: May 2012 – 125 days – 6 games missed
- Hairline crack in foot: March 2014 – 57 days – 11 games missed
- Ankle injury: November 2014 – 90 days – 19 games missed
- Hairline crack in fibula: August 2015 – 247 days – 47 games missed
- Hairline crack in fibula: April 2017 – 112 days – 1 game missed
- Ankle injury: September 2018 – 82 days – 11 games missed
- Ankle surgery: December 2018 – 138 days – 22 games missed
- Groin injury: October 2019 – 221 days – 22 games missed
- Calf injury: September 2020 – 11 days – 4 games missed
Since then, short-term spells at West Ham, Bournemouth and Danish club AGF Aarhus failed to revive his career but how the tables turn – Wilshere is now in Bould’s old role as Arsenal U18s.
“Unfortunately for Jack, his injuries curtailed what could and should have been a really outstanding career,” says Bould. “It’s a shame for him. I felt for him, having to pack it in at 30 years of age.
“But I spoke to Jack a couple of times recently and I knew he was interested in the coaching – and he’s a great appointment for the club.”
From the outset, Bould is right: there is some sense to the former academy product who rose to stardom – no matter how temporary or stagnated – taking charge of the most important part of young players’ development. But there is more to it than that.
“Jack is a really, really intelligent fella. I think people miss this of him. When he played, it wasn’t about Jack. He played football to make you a better player. That’s what the great players do, he will take that into his coaching.”
It won’t all be plain sailing for Wilshere, however, according to Bould.
“The problem for somebody so talented as him, is that he might not get players who were as good as he was.
“You’ve got to step back and have a lot of patience but I know he’ll work it out very, very quickly and the boys will benefit from him being there.”
And what if Wilshere finds another Wilshere in that Arsenal academy?
Wilshere’s five best career moments
- That night against Barcelona – Arsenal were pitted against one of the best Barcelona sides of all-time, with a 19-year-old Wilshere tasked with coming up against Sergio Busquets, Andres Iniesta and Xavi. Against the nippy tiki taka football, Wilshere showed grit, trickery and an equal level of technical guile as Arsene Wenger’s side won 2-1 in one of the best nights in their recent history.
- Goal of the season against Norwich – Wilshere didn’t score many across his career, but when he did it was special. His best in the Premier League was a beautiful one-touch team goal against Norwich in 2013, which saw him combine beautifully with Santi Cazorla and Olivier Giroud, which won goal of the season – an award he won a year later for a crashing effort against West Bromwich Albion.
- Dominating Brazil – Wilshere made his England debut in 2010 but had to wait three years to become a Three Lions regular. He was awarded man of the match against Brazil in 2013 to announce himself on the international stage, playing a major role in England’s opener in a 2-1 victory – the Three Lions’ first win over the Selecao in nearly a quarter of a century. The biggest indication he would be England’s future.
- Helping Arsenal win the FA Cup – it’s the second half of extra-time in the 2014 FA Cup final and Arsenal are locked in a 2-2 draw against Hull. Wilshere has been brought on in the brief Wembley interval and within four minutes, he plays a role in the winning goal. Wilshere’s incisive pass fell into the path of Yaya Sanogo, who played the ball into Olivier Giroud. The French forward’s flick found Aaron Ramsey in the box, who prodded home the winner. Wilshere’s intervention helped Arsenal end a run of nine years without a trophy, with the midfielder helping the Gunners to the same trophy a year later, also off the bench.
- Saving England vs Slovenia – The Three Lions were 1-0 down away to Slovenia in a Euro 2016 qualifier in June 2015, when Wilshere took the game by the scruff of the neck. The midfielder scored two epic long-range efforts to put England back in front, with Roy Hodgson’s side winning the vital contest 3-2.
“If he comes upon a little diamond, it’s about how quick that little diamond will grow,” claims Bould. “You’ve got to be patient, even with players who are not doing so well in certain parts of their career.
“It won’t happen overnight. The players that he’ll be coaching, some of them won’t be ready for the first team for four, five years. So it’s a long process.”
Bould on becoming the boss at Lommel SK
Wilshere is not the only person undergoing a new chapter in their coaching career this summer – his old mentor is too.
After years in the coaching set-up at Arsenal – which saw him go back to the club’s academy in the Under-23s head coach role – Bould was handed his first managerial role in senior football at Belgian second division side Lommel SK.
A year after being sacked by Arsenal, Bould can’t help but think about his former club when taking on his new job.
“The club’s got a really good feel about it,” said Bould. “There’s people involved at the club who have been here for a really long time.
“It reminds me a little bit about what Highbury was like, when there’s a small staff group and you knew everybody’s name.”
A first managerial role combined with experiencing a new culture of football. Bould, a double winner with Arsenal in the 1997-98 season, is not fazed at all.
“The beer’s very nice!” says Bould when asked about the new culture at Lommel, a city in north east Belgium consisting of just 34,000 people – a far cry from London. “It’s great, I’ve been welcomed everywhere. The whole atmosphere of the town and the city is very laid back. It’s very enjoyable.”
And there is some familiarity to the English game. Lommel SK is part of Manchester City’s Football Group – a collection of European clubs acting as sister teams to the Premier League champions including Palermo in Italy and MLS side New York City FC. Bould is continuing his first pre-season in senior management in the Manchester training base this week.
Part of that role will be continuing the development of young players from City’s academy who will go to Lommel SK on loan – meaning Bould will not be too far away from his Arsenal days.
“As a coach, working with young players is probably the part I really enjoy and what I get the most joy out of,” Bould says. “It goes back to my time with the youth team working with Jack and Henri Lansbury and all that crew.
“I want to win games and part of that development is winning football games. Where that takes you, who knows?”