Jack Wilshere’s debut for AGF did not go to plan. In the space of a few whirlwind days, he had flown out to Denmark amid international media fanfare and was registered just in time for their Superliga clash with Vejle BK. Despite the speedy nature of his arrival though, his grueling 10-month journey back to playing professional football would ultimately have to last a little longer.
A faulty floodlight at AGF’s Ceres Park stadium saw the game halted minutes into the second half. Wilshere was ultimately introduced seconds prior to 14 minutes of additional time brought about by the technical delay, but could not do enough to stop his new team from succumbing to a thrilling 3-2 defeat. Despite the turbulent nature of his start to life in Scandanavia though, he insists the adaptation process was relatively plain sailing.
“To be honest it was pretty smooth,” Wilshere tells football.london. “They were good there, the staff were good, I had an open relationship with them where I could tell them how I felt, they could tell me if they wanted to do more, if they wanted to push me or relax. So yeah it went good.
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“I felt, especially towards the end, really good. I felt as though I could really make a difference in games. In training, I felt sharp. I know that now we’ve got a little break so we’ll see what happens , but I know that I can get to that level.”
The move certainly caught a few by surprise. Many AGF fans would willingly admit when they first saw news of Wilshere’s arrival that they thought it was a cruel prank. As the reality began to sink in though, the sense of anticipation around Denmark’s second-largest city of Aarhus began to build.
The move was quickly declared the biggest in Danish club football history, surpassing Brazil international Vagner Love’s stint with FC Midtylland earlier this year. Despite the pomp around his arrival though Wilshere quickly began to earn the respect of doubters with his humble approach and the feeling was very much mutual.
“The mindset was amazing from the players,” he says. “There were no egos, everyone worked hard every single day in training. There were no problems, even when we were losing games. Being in a club and you lose five or six games – I’ve been in clubs where that’s happened – things “Can turn a bit nasty, and players start saying things to each other and they start pointing the finger. There was none of that. It was actually quite unique in terms of how the players stuck together and the togetherness.”
“Culturally, it was it is. Everyone works hard and that’s what it is. If you don’t work hard, then you’re not going to fit in, you know that straight away and you have to buy into that. Everyone was good people, everyone spoke English, so it was a really transition in that side of things.”
It’s been quite the journey for Wilshere to get to this point. It was just under a year ago that he was left as a free agent following his release from his second stint with Bournemouth. As he looks back on the path that led him to this point, the 30-year-old is keen to cite the importance of the role his return to Arsenal played.
Having found himself at a crossroads, the England international was invited to return to training at London Colney. While working with Mikel Arteta’s first team to get himself back up to speed he was also offered the chance to do some coaching within the Gunners academy.
Wilshere threw himself into the role, working with youngsters like Charlie Patino and making long trips out to places like Newport to watch Kevin Betsy’s young side progress in Papa John’s Trophy matches against senior sides. Having been anxious to begin this work, it’s something he admitted he is glad he pursued.
“I’ve loved every minute of it,” he says. “I didn’t quite know how I’d like it, to be honest. I always thought coaching was something I wanted to do – I done my badges – but I never really thought about it too much because you don’t have time when you’re playing all the time.
“Then I was without a club and Arsenal invited me back to train and start some coaching and from the first day of coaching, I loved it. It’s something I want to pursue, get better at and learn.”
Despite only being an academy player himself 12 years ago, things have certainly changed in the youth set up since Wilshere’s day. As we sit down to talk he has just delivered a speech to a group of youngsters who have been invited to a training session at the Emirates in front of Arsenal’s scouts as part of STATSports’ ‘Make Yourself’ campaign which provides the club with the data of grassroots players using the STATSports Arsenal FC edition app.
This technology has revolutionized youth development across the Premier League and is now at the vanguard of modern coaching. As an aspiring young coach himself Wilshere has had experience using it and speaks highly of what it has brought to the game.
“When I first broke in there was no technology,” he says. “There were heart rate monitors we used and then slowly, STATSports came in and it changed everything.
“I could have done with (using) it, I was a player who would have benefited from it when I was younger in terms of management and seeing where I was at and needed to get to. These young players have a great opportunity now because The numbers are there and there’s no hiding place. This is what the Premier League players do in training and matchdays. If you want to have a chance, this is what you have to do.
“I’ve never coached without it,” he goes on to add. “So I think it’s a big change for the older coaches who were around when there wasn’t any GPS’. Now – I wouldn’t say it’s all about the GPS – but it’s a big part of training preparation. In ‘this’ part of a session, we’re going to need to get ‘this’ amount of high-speed running.
“I actually quite like it, it works quite nicely because when you go into a session, you know exactly what you’re going to get out of it.”
The coaching is certainly something Wilshere sees as part of his long-term future. He is on the International Player to Coach Program and is nearing the completion of his Senior Pro-UEFA A Licence.
In the short term though it seems his mind is made up, and as the topic is raised there is a relaxed clarity to his thought process. AGF have the option to extend his deal by another year, and this is something the 30-year-old feels open to.
“Because of what happened towards the end of the season, where we survived on the last day, there wasn’t really much time to have those kinds of conversations because there was a lot of stress around the thought of relegation,” he says. “I think at the end of the season everyone needed to take a breath and have a few days before those conversations start. The manager got sacked so there’s going to be a new coach going in there.
“I would [like to go back] if the coach wants me and I get to speak to him. As I said before I really like the place and I like the city, I like the club. We’ll see.”
Whatever is ahead it does seem as though Wilshere is in a far better place than 10 months ago. The road to his return may have been a bumpy one, but having rediscovered his confidence at senior level, the hope now is that smoother times lie ahead.
To find out more about the STATSports Arsenal FC Edition, visit www.statsports.com/arsenal