Jack Wilshere says he had to leave West Ham because he couldn’t face the prospect of a year on the sidelines with no hope of playing.
Wilshere’s Hammers contract was terminated by mutual consent on transfer deadline day, bringing an end to an unhappy two-year spell at the club he supported as a boy.
The 28-year-old made just 19 appearances after leaving Arsenal in 2018. He hasn’t started a Premier League game since August 2019 and admits he is in danger of being forgotten.
But the England midfielder is adamant he has much more to give and is pushing his body through training sessions at his local park to keep himself fit as he looks for a new club.
Speaking to BBC Sport, Wilshere outlined the frustrations of recent months, his determination to find “the right club” and the demands of looking after four kids.
Leaving West Ham
After his Arsenal contract expired, Wilshere was looking forward to a new start at West Ham. But ankle and groin injuries scuppered those hopes with Wilshere starting just two more Premier League games after initially being ruled out in September 2018. He made one 90-minute appearance in the EFL Cup - against Hull - this season.
“People will say what they want and footballers get paid well, but there is nothing more draining and saps your confidence more than when you know you are not going to play, that no matter what you do in training, or what the other players are doing, even if you lose 3-0, you are not going to get an opportunity.
“I didn’t want to be around that and in that environment.”
Over the past five seasons, Wilshere has suffered a number of injuries that have kept him out for extended periods. However, when he recovered from his most recent one, a groin problem, in time to be involved in West Ham’s post-lockdown games, he was repeatedly overlooked.
“I missed a lot through injury but always before, when I was fit at Arsenal, I played.
“Last season, when I came back after lockdown, having worked so hard to get back to a good level of fitness and was training every day, it just didn’t feel like my opportunity was ever going to come. And, of course, it didn’t.
“I didn’t like it but we were in the middle of a relegation battle so I understood the team had to come first.
“But when we came back for pre-season, it was the same again. I thought everyone would be given a fresh chance and a clean slate to impress but it never happened for me.”
Training in a park
With no club, Wilshere has been training with some friends in a local park. It means he is getting to experience the same issues Sunday league footballers have to deal with.
“A group of lads have kindly given their time. I have done a lot of running but there comes a time when you need to have players around you, to get the contact training and that load in your body.
“We go into a park I use during the off-season. It is not like playing at the Emirates but it is good enough.
“You are spoilt in the Premier League. If anything this improves your touch and makes you concentrate because you are expecting a bobble. I feel the pain of players who are on there all the time because the same things happen to me as well. But it is actually quite nice to be in a park, kicking a ball around.”
As Wilshere’s contract was terminated before the transfer deadline closed, he is now a free agent. He can sign for anyone - and, importantly, is available to play immediately. However, after getting it wrong going to West Ham, now he needs to get it right.
“It is important to find a club where I am going to play, be an important player and be happy. I don’t want to rush into anything. It has to be the right team in the right country.
“I am open to Europe or wherever.
“I am the type of player who wants to have the ball. I understand there is another side to the game and I enjoy that but I would like to be in a team who has the ball.
“I am not naive enough to think I am going to sign for a club and play straight away. There is a process to it. You have to train with the team, get to know your team-mates, maybe come off the bench a couple of times. I want to get that process going but it has to be the right thing.”
Advice from Arsene
Arsene Wenger gave Wilshere his Arsenal debut in 2008, and remains a useful source of advice. The pair spoke about his West Ham situation and will probably do so again before the midfielder decides on his new club.
“I spoke to Arsene when we were negotiating everything with West Ham and he was helpful. When the time is right, as and when I have some options, where they are and what would be best for me, he would probably be the one I would call, yes.”
Wilshere has been linked with a number of clubs already. He has not set a deadline on getting something sorted but he wants to avoid being out of the game too long.
“It is a different world when you wake up every day and…I have still been training every day but there is no set time, which is probably the most difficult thing. I have four kids. My missus might say ‘do you want to go to the park?’ and I am like ‘I have to go training’.
“My hat goes off to my wife. It is a mad house, all day.
“I normally wake up and go to work, come back around 2 or 3pm and have three or four hours with the kids. That is a bit mad but all day is something else. Don’t get me wrong, I have enjoyed it for a couple of weeks but there comes a point where I need to get back to a club.”
The forgotten man
Once the golden boy of English football, Wilshere won the first of his 34 England caps at the age of 18. He played at the 2014 World Cup and Euro 2016. But he has disappeared from the international stage since then. His only call-up by Gareth Southgate came in March 2018, when Wilshere had to pull out.
“People forget I am 28. Everyone thinks I am 30 or 31, probably because I started when I was 16. That is 12 years ago, which is a long time in football.
“In my head I have been fit for ages but at the same time, I haven’t played games. People probably have forgotten. But there is a difference between fully fit and playing games.
“I have been fully fit for a while but without games you don’t get up to speed or get the minutes you need.
“In a year’s time, I would like to have 20-25 games behind me at a new club and be looking forward to the future.
“I feel I have much more to give. I just want to be given the opportunity to show it.”