Out of all of the players who have played for Arsenal over the last decade, few have worked their way into the hearts of as many supporters as Jack Wilshere. Like most of us who love the club, the Stevenage born midfielder has been a lifelong fan of Arsenal, and his love of the club is apparent every time he takes the pitch, giving his all for the fans in the stands and the badge on his chest. For some supporters, including this humble writer, Jack’s career has been a source of great interest and pride. He was always touted for his technique and world class potential as a teenager, and the diminutive midfielder wowed fans who followed his progress through a series of grainy internet videos of his youth team exploits as well as the occasional report touting this next great Gunner. What will happen to him next season? You will need more than a betting guide to get that guess right.
Wilshere’s initial success breaking into the first team came as no surprise to fans that had caught on to the hype surrounding him, and his early professional career was an absolute revelation for Arsenal as well as England’s youth setup. Unfortunately, we are all too familiar with the path his career has been on ever since, and there is a legitimate concern that at 26, Wilshere may never be the player he was always supposed to be because of his devastating injury record. However, since his loan move to Bournemouth last season, Wilshere has shown a renewed maturity and dedication to his craft, and despite returning from his south coast stay with a broken leg, he worked tirelessly to muscle his way back into Arsene Wenger’s season plans for the Arsenal midfield. In the final year of a contract that has paid him around £100k per week, it was essential that he prove his fitness and value to Arsene Wenger and club executives. He has been dogged in his determination to get back into the Premier League starting XI, and the time of writing, he has just about made it back where he belongs.
Dealing With The New Guy
Wilshere’s encouraging progress this season has brought him back from an almost certain, unceremonious departure from the club, and he has been locked in negotiations with Arsenal to extend his stay beyond this season. While he may have won over his long-suffering manager once again with his play on the pitch and his dedication to improving his fitness this season, there is a new wrinkle in contract negotiations that could make his next deal a far more difficult compromise: new chief contracts negotiator, Huss Fahmy.
In recent seasons, with the long-serving Dick Law still in charge of contract negotiations, Arsenal had come under criticism from some corners of the media for their unique wage structure and the perceived over-emotional valuation of some players. This led to some large contracts to players like Per Mertesacker and Mikel Arteta that function more as rewards for their past service than as reflections of their current value to the team on the pitch. Emotion, many argue, has kept Arsenal from taking some hard decisions on player evaluations that could have benefited the club long term by keeping them away from bloating the wage bill with non-contributors with high wages.
The early indication of Fahmy, who replaced Law last September, is that he has taken a more dispassionate approach into these negotiations, and nowhere is this more apparent than in the reports surrounding Jack Wilshere’s future. Despite his powerful connection to the club and its fans, the club has apparently decided to take a harder line in negotiations with Wilshere, offering him a reduced basic wage from his last contract, reportedly down to £80k per week, but making up the difference with “significant” escalators built in for performance and health that could take his wage well up into the £100k+ range, even beyond that of his current deal.
When taking emotion and an affinity for ‘Jack the Lad’ out of the equation, the new contract offer actually makes a lot of sense from the club’s perspective. As some are no doubt aware, when a player is out injured (as Wilshere was for a significant portion of the last half decade) they are entitled to their full wages for at least 18 months before a club can seek to reduce that payment to the player. This means that Arsenal have paid Wilshere his roughly £5 million annual wage in full throughout the length of his current deal, despite having made 20 or more Premier League appearances just twice since the 2010/11 season. Even allowing for the special place Wilshere holds in many a Gooner heart, that is objectively a poor return on investment for the club, and one that the board would be loathe to repeat. Offering him a lower basic wage in a deal laden with incentives protects the club slightly in the advent of another long-term injury to Wilshere while still giving him the opportunity to earn top of market type wages should he continue to play and perform.
Understandably, however, Wilshere appears to be a bit miffed by this stance from his beloved club. After all, this is a player that has seen fellow creative midfielder Mesut Ozil increase his own wages by a staggering £200k per week, Theo Walcott get offered a contract of over £100k per week, and even players like Danny Welbeck earning at or around 6 figures weekly, while he is offered a reduction in his basic wage. Given how much wages and transfer fees have inflated at an alarming rate the last couple of seasons, a player of Wilshere’s standing should be able to easily better the terms of their last deal. Simply from a pride standpoint, his frustration is easily relatable to most people who understand why one’s wage shrinking could be seen as alarming.
In addition to his pride, one must also ask whether Wilshere’s reasons for disliking the current contract offer run a little deeper. Is it possible that the player himself doesn’t have faith in his own body and ability to live up to his next deal and achieve the incentives set forth within? It would be almost improbable to assume that a player with as blighted an injury history as his own wouldn’t consider them when negotiating his new deal. Many of Wilshere’s most serious injuries have been from physical trauma, not long term wear and tear (like Aaron Ramsey’s frequent muscular problems), but the recent news of him being held out of England’s first friendly this week due to tendinitis in his knee could point to an underlying, long-term issue that could continue to degenerate. Making comments about the decision to pull Jack from training, Three Lions boss Garett Southgate mentioned that the issue was minor, but one that was not new and that Wilshere had been managing for quite some time. Could it be that this concerns Wilshere, making him reluctant to accept a lower basic wage out of fear that he could spend even more time in the future out of action?
Future Captain or a Summer Departure?
When speaking to fans about Wilshere’s current situation, there is a general view that he means nearly as much to the club now for what he represents (Arsenal DNA, determination and fight) as he does for his performance on the pitch. He is a player the evokes strong emotion from fans, be it adoration or intense frustration at his failure to live up to his considerable potential, but many feel as if he has all of the tools to be the next Arsenal captain (and first in quite some time to actually play matches regularly). However, the reality of the situation is getting more tense as the days tick away on his deal with the club before this summer, where he is free to sign with any club he wants.
The fans, the club, and likely even his teammates want Wilshere to stay where he belongs, here with Arsenal, but the Gunners recent fall out of the Champions League has hurt their financial flexibility. Huss Fahmy likely has little choice but to try and preserve as much of the wage budget as possible for the massive changes expected this summer. Arsenal qualifying for the Champions League again this season would go a long way toward easing those constraints, but for the time being, it looks like a lifelong Gunner and fan of the club could be a casualty of these restrictions. On the outside, it may not make much sense that a player and a club who both want the same thing (that player to remain with the club) could be unable to strike a deal that works for both parties, but that is now life at Arsenal Football Club. Fans have been clamouring for years for their club to display more ruthless intent in their pursuit of trophies, and ironically, the loss of one of their most precious and loved players could be the signal that the club is finally starting to do just that.