"I’m probably the worst fantasy league player ever,” says Jack Wilshere, Arsenal and England’s bright young hope. “I don’t really score that often and I get booked quite a lot as well — when you get booked you lose points.”
In case you ever wondered: yes, even professional football players play fantasy football. At the Emirates Stadium, there’s an in-house league, and the competition is fierce. “Last year, Wojciech Szcze˛sny, the goalkeeper, won it,” Wilshere reveals. “Theo [Walcott] came second. I think Theo’s up there again this year. I’m about halfway at the moment.”
So, while Wilshere won’t pick himself, he’s happy to select former colleagues — Robin van Persie he says is so prolific that he’s worth splurging on. However, he’s having less success with his current teammates. “I’ve picked Theo,” the midfielder says. “I’ve told him to score a few more, but it’s not working.”
Unlike fantasy football managers, their real-world counterparts have long seen Wilshere as a central cog in their teams. Rising through Arsenal’s youth academy, in 2008 he was made the senior team’s youngest ever debutant at the age of 16 years and 256 days. And since 2006, he’s always played in the England set-up above his age band, against bigger boys. (It’s worth noting that the father of one, with another due imminently as we went to press, is still only 21.)
The game of two halves is ever-hungry for stats, and Wilshere has the pass completion rate that fans of both club and country pray will end their respective years of hurt. Another big number: £42.5m. Chatting to Esquire the day after transfer deadline day, Wilshere also has something to say about Arsenal’s recent record signing, Mesut Özil.
“We know what he brings — we’re lucky to sign him. He plays the Arsenal way, you know. He plays our style of playing.”
Is playing with style also important when fitting into the Emirates’ dressing room? On the subject of his own sartorial stance, Wilshere says he likes to “change it up a bit”, but during the season he’s rarely out of his football kit. He admits Esquire’s edit of new season’s knitwear isn’t what he normally goes for, but, “to be honest with you, I started to like them on the shoot. One of the jackets I wore, I’ve ordered it online.”
Bequiffed and tattooed, David Beckham is an obvious style icon. “He’s tried some audacious things,” Wilshere says.
Alex Song was always the best-dressed Arsenal player, Wilshere imparts. But with him long-gone to Barcelona, there’s an opening, and you’ve got to think that Wilshere is up there. “At the moment, Bacary Sagna is quite stylish,” he says. But what of Theo Walcott, one of the core of English Gunners whom Wilshere calls his “best mates”?
“Theo sometimes looks nice,” he dryly notes.