For me, the most intriguing football story of the past week has come in the form of two midfielders: both 30, both supremely talented, both internationals and both of whom have had glittering careers at the highest level of the game. The similarities end there though, because last week one of them signed a three-year deal with Manchester United while the other retired from the game.
I am, of course, talking about Christian Eriksen and Jack Wilshere.
If you had told me a year ago that it would Eriksen doing the signing and Wilshere doing the retiring, I would have seriously questioned your sanity. Yes, Wilshere had a long history of recurring injuries, but Eriksen had recently died on the pitch while playing for his country. And you don’t get much more injured than not being alive for a bit.
Yet that is how things have panned out for the two.
For Eriksen, his deal with United is the crowning glory on what must surely be one of the most remarkable comebacks in the history of football. To go from cardiac arrest on the pitch and being clinically dead to signing for one of the giants of European football is truly stunning.
And good luck to him. Resuming his career at any level after living through what he lived through is incredibly brave. To have the courage to take that to the highest level – backed up by your own inbuilt mini defibrillator – is inspiring.
You could understand him wanting to be involved in football in some way, maybe at a lower level without the pressure, or maybe as a coach. But Eriksen has moved to a club where fitness and stamina have to be at world-class levels.
On the other hand, Wilshere’s retirement is as sad as it is inevitable. In his prime, Wilshere was one of the most promising and talented English players around. From his mid-teens to his early 20s he had the world at his feet. Unfortunately, those feet were attached to ankles, knees, ligaments and various other parts of his body that simply weren’t up to the demands of a first-class football career.
He made almost 200 appearances for Arsenal but, since leaving his childhood club in 2018, his time at West Ham United, Bournemouth and Danish side AGF was pretty much a smorgasbord of injuries interspersed with the occasional game.
On that basis, Wilshere’s retirement is no great surprise, but that doesn’t stop me wondering what he might have gone on to achieve if his body had been on the same level as his talent. He is now back at Arsenal as coach of the under-18s and he is one of those players who I can see having a great future on the touchline. Players that are forced to retire early tend to have a bit more hunger for success as managers.
With these two guys it is hard not to want them both to succeed
Eriksen, meanwhile, has his sights set on this winter’s World Cup and then a few seasons beyond. Quite, quite remarkable.
With these two guys it is hard not to want them both to succeed.
The Lionesses roar on
Last Wednesday night’s women’s match between England and Spain in Euro 2022 was just like watching the men’s team in terms of drama and excitement. There was, however, one difference – after being outplayed for much of the game, England women had the guts to stage a thrilling comeback in a crucial knockout. I dread to think what would have happened if the men’s team found themselves in a similar position. It would have been ugly.
Heading into this quarter-final, the women were in superb form, topping their group after three wins in which they scored 14 goals without conceding. But the Lionesses were outplayed for a good 75 minutes by a Spain side reminiscent of their own men’s team with their neat passing and possession. Then, to top it off, England went behind.
At that stage, if it had been the men, I would have expected them to roll over and die. There would have been plenty of huffing and puffing and the odd ray of hope, but it would ultimately have ended in the traditional heartbreak of failure. Maybe that’s a little unfair on the men, but the last time I remember the Three Lions coming from behind against dominant opponents was way back in 1990. Or it may have been 1890.
The women are, apparently, made of sterner stuff. An equaliser a few minutes before the end of the 90 set up extra time, where Georgia Stanway smashed in a long-range effort to take England through to Tuesday’s semi-final.
Now the women are just 180 minutes away from lifting their first major trophy, and while it won’t be an easy ask, if they maintain the same levels of determination in the next two matches it is most certainly possible.
After nearly 50 years of waiting for England to win a trophy it looks like the hurt might finally be ended by the women’s team. And that would be poetic justice for a sport that many supporters of the men’s game have often seen as little more than a novelty sideshow.