Jack Wilshere and Joe Hart appear to be the early casualties of Gareth Southgate’s England planning – two relatively young players who would have imagined an international future at the last World Cup.
Wilshere got a chance in Brazil only once England had been eliminated, whereas Hart played in the first two games but made way for Ben Foster as Roy Hodgson rang the changes for the final match against Costa Rica. Both players went on to play in the calamitous defeat against Iceland in Nice that signalled the end of England’s Euro 2016 campaign and prompted Hodgson’s resignation, though neither is particularly tainted by the sort of tournament failure that has come to haunt teams from this country.
Wilshere’s career has been bedevilled by injury, which is how he came to lose his place at Arsenal after an impressive climb through the youth ranks, and the season he spent on loan at Bournemouth after Euro 2016 could be regarded only as a qualified success. Once he was no longer integral to Arsenal plans he was no longer guaranteed an England call-up either and, if he does drop out of the reckoning for the World Cup in Russia, it will simply be the culmination of several seasons of disappointment.
When Wilshere first broke through he looked so cultured and comfortable that people were talking in terms of a century of caps, or at least being a fixture on the international stage for a decade or more, which amounts to more or less the same thing.
At 26, with 34 caps, it is now beginning to look as if he may not reach 50. He has undoubtedly been unlucky with the timing of some of his injuries, though it could also be said he has not always made the most of his opportunities.
He has seen players such as Dele Alli, Eric Dier, Raheem Sterling and Jordan Henderson establish themselves through being more forceful on the pitch. In all probability Wilshere would have made it to Russia only as a squad player in any case and in that capacity his claims are now being challenged by Jesse Lingard and Ruben Loftus-Cheek.
Hart’s is a completely different story. Though occasionally error-prone with England, just as with Manchester City, the goalkeeper might still be clocking up appearances for both had not Pep Guardiola arrived and decided his distribution was not up to scratch – not just his ability with the ball at his feet inside and outside the box, but his accuracy with goalkicks and long clearances.
Guardiola sets high standards for goalkeepers; he wants the complete package. Claudio Bravo, Hart’s immediate replacement at City, was hardly that – the Chilean was not in the England player’s league as a shot-stopper – though now Ederson has been brought in with an immaculate range of goalkeeping attributes there are far fewer people arguing Hart has been harshly treated.
Nonetheless the goalkeeper is at the moment looking for a club after failing to win a regular place at West Ham and not quite answering his critics when on loan at Turin the previous season.
Hart has 75 caps and has just turned 31 – no age at all for a goalkeeper – yet more doors seem to be closing than opening and after very publicly failing to live up to the standards required by a succession of managers there must now be question marks over his confidence.
Doubtless he could find a berth almost anywhere as a reserve goalkeeper, which is in effect what he became when on loan at West Ham, though the role does not suit everyone.
If Hart wishes to continue in a first team, he may have to consider dropping down the league a little and finding a club who would be glad of his considerable experience.
That might be hard to swallow for a player whose two league titles are still fresh in the memory, along with four golden glove awards from his time as No 1 at the Etihad Stadium, though it is already clear City have moved on. If Hart is to do the same, he needs to find regular football. With a bit of luck and the right club there may still be time left for a comeback.