LONDON (Reuters) - English football held its breath twice this week because of Paul Gascoigne, firstly when he was admitted to an alcohol treatment centre and secondly after Jack Wilshere showed England may finally have found his heir apparent.
Gascoigne became a national hero with his performances and tears as England reached the 1990 World Cup semi-finals but since drinking curtailed his career, England have been crying out for a ball carrier who can beat men and pick a perfect pass.
Steven Gerrard was perhaps the closest England had come but the 32-year-old captain was happy to sit back in Wednesday’s 2-1 friendly win over Brazil and let a man 11 years his junior light up Wembley.
Not many players give away early penalties against the might of Brazil and end up being man of the match but Wilshere fully justified Gerrard’s pre-match comments about the “scary” Arsenal man having the potential to become one of the best in the world.
Coach Roy Hodgson agreed after Wilshere’s defence-splitting pass helped set up Wayne Rooney for England’s opener after Ronaldinho spared his blushes after a debatable handball by having his penalty expertly saved by Joe Hart.
“As long as he is comfortable with the expectations, why should I worry?,” Hodgson told reporters.
“To be frank, if Jack Wilshere keeps up that level of performance he will soon justify all the expectations. He was very, very good as was Theo Walcott, who terrorised the left side of their defence.”
Walcott was indeed impressive and gave Brazil left back Adriano a torrid time but he has yet to boast the assuredness and maturity beyond his years of Wilshere, who overran the ball a couple of times but was otherwise in a different class.
Unlike troubled Gascoigne, who even as a player occasionally lost his head, Wilshere seems grounded yet fierce in the tackle.
His ability to ghost past defenders with his spindly legs is almost reminiscent of Lionel Messi while at the very least England can say he is their answer to Spain’s Andres Iniesta.
It might have been very different for a midfielder who only came back from 15 months out with an ankle problem in October amid Arsenal and England fears that he may never play again.
Wilshere, only picking up his seventh cap, outplayed Brazil’s much hyped Neymar, who despite his garish hair colour failed to shine and missed a sitter in the first half.
Fortunately for the Santos striker, who has surprisingly stayed in Brazil rather than headed for the European leagues, substitute Fred brought the visitors level after the break in Luiz Felipe Scolari’s first game back as coach.
His goal owed much to a dreadful error from Gary Cahill in a reminder to Hodgson with March World Cup qualifiers in San Marino and Montenegro on the horizon, that all is not well in central defence after the exits of John Terry and Rio Ferdinand.
Another old stager Frank Lampard wrapped up England’s first win over Brazil in 23 years with a fine finish on the hour and later praised the man who may have taken his first-team place.
“Jack Wilshere is a fantastic player, his technical ability, his quality on the ball. He is going to be a massive player for England and in the world,” Lampard said.
Additional reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by John O'Brien