At the end of every season, football clubs announce their list of released players. Players can be released for a multitude of reasons, from poor injury records, declining performances due to age, or even just a downright refusal to resign, à la Ryan Fraser.
Most of the top level free agents usually don’t stay jobless for too long, as there’s normally a club waiting in the wings to have them sign on the dotted line upon the expiry of their contract.
Recent examples include Willian, who joined Arsenal at the expiry of his Chelsea contract, Ryan Fraser, who refused to play for Bournemouth again during their relegation campaign before signing for Newcastle, and Danny Welbeck, who has recently joined Brighton, following his release from Watford to cut costs following their relegation to the Championship.
However, not all of the big names immediately snap up deals with new clubs. The impact of Covid-19 on the football market may have affected the ability of certain players to obtain deals following releases this summer, however there are plenty of top level players chomping at the bit to ply their trade in the upper echelons of the game once more.
In a new Long Reads: Football series, I’ll look at the list of football’s free agents, and where they should go next.
Let’s start the series with a mercurial English talent, shall we?
Jack Wilshere last featured for West Ham on the 22nd of September this year, in a 5-1 Carabao cup rout of Hull. Since then, the former England international has had his contract with the London club terminated by mutual consent, after only 19 appearances in his spell of just over 2 years with the Hammers.
In the case of Wilshere, the reason as to why it didn’t quite stick at West Ham is not a mystery. He’s been blighted by injuries during pretty much his entire career, and this spell with this most recent club has been no different.
No one has ever doubted the potential quality of Jack Wilshere, he certainly is one of the best midfielders England have produced in recent times, but his injury record has always been a sticking point. However, Wilshere is adamant that he has been fit for the last several months of his West Ham tenure, and that he still has a lot more to give at the top level of the game.
Wilshere’s highs in the game have been very high. Bursting onto the scene with an iconic Champions League performance against Barcelona, Wilshere caught eyes from a very young age. With Arsenal, he won 2 FA Cups and a community shield, he scored perhaps one of the greatest ever Premier League goals against Norwich, and was arguably England’s best player for a period following the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
Wilshere’s pedigree is unquestionable. The question is, who is going to gamble on Wilshere and his undoubted quality, when his injury record and wage demands are considered?
Where should he go next?
A return to Bournemouth, where he spent a fruitful loan spell during the 2016-17 season making 27 appearances, has been touted, but the likelihood of a Championship club wanting to take on the wages of a player like Wilshere without the guarantee of regular output is unlikely.
It seems to me that there is one logical answer for Jack Wilshere’s next career move, and that is a trip across the Atlantic to the MLS.
Right now, what Wilshere needs is a club where he can quietly return to fitness and form. In the USA, the eyes of the British media would not be so tightly focussed on what Wilshere is up to.
American ‘soccer’ fans would adore him, he’s the kind of player who can light up a game with his quality, and the pace of the game in the States is notably slower than that of the European leagues.
A move to the US would give Wilshere exactly what he needs, time to get back to full fitness, and the status as a guaranteed starter, when fit, that would provide him with the confidence he needs to get back to the Jack Wilshere of old.
There is a conception that clouds the MLS. Many see it as a ‘retirement home’ for players from top European leagues, to an extent this may be true, but there have certainly been examples of players who migrated to the US, but have since returned.
Take Jermain Defoe for example, the Englishman left Spurs in 2014 as a bit part player. At the age of 32, many would have assumed that a move to Toronto would be the end of his career at the very top level.
However, this was not the case. After one year, 19 appearances, and 11 goals, Defoe returned to England with Sunderland, where he almost single-handedly maintained their status as a Premier League club. Defoe is still playing in a competitive league to this day, with Steven Gerrard’s Rangers.
This is exactly the type of rejuvenation that Jack Wilshere needs. As a reminder, he is only 28! Wilshere could replicate Defoe. He could spend a year or two in the MLS rebuilding his fitness and gaining in confidence, then return to England at 29 or 30 with plenty left to offer.
Jack Wilshere’s ability is still very much present, and if his statement upon the termination of his West Ham contract is to be believed, then so too is his desire. He just needs somebody to take a punt on him.