Appropriately enough, the call summoning Jack Wilshere from the footballing wilderness came on Christmas Eve. For nearly three months he had been without a club: kicking his heels at home in lockdown, training alone in a local park. That was when his old team Bournemouth got in touch.
The club have fallen from their pedestal in recent years, and in many ways the same could be said of Wilshere, who has signed a contract until the end of the season.
The question is whether anything remains of the midfielder who announced himself so thrillingly for Arsenal and England a decade ago, but whose most recent spell at West Ham saw him play only 19 games over two frustrating years before his contract was terminated.
Despite dropping down to Championship level, and having endured a litany of injuries over the years, Wilshere certainly has no qualms about his ability to deliver.
“The most important thing for a footballer is that you believe in yourself,” he says. “And I’ve never, ever doubted myself as a player. The day you haven’t anything got to prove, you should give up.”
Eventually, Wilshere gave up trying to prove himself to David Moyes, his manager at West Ham. And while there are no hard feelings at how things ended at his boyhood club, he also contends that he “didn’t want to sit there on big wages and just rot” on the sidelines. He emerged from the first lockdown fit and hungry, only to find himself cast adrift from a team that demanded a more combative, ball‑winning presence in central midfield.
“I’ve got nothing bad to say about West Ham,” Wilshere insists. “I have friends there, I grew up a West Ham fan and am very grateful to them for allowing me to leave when I had a year left on my contract. It didn’t work out, and you don’t need to be a footballing genius to work out why. It’s my style of play: playing for Bournemouth in this league, they are a big team who like to keep the ball. There will be teams who sit back, and it’s up to us to break them down. That’s the type of player I am.”
And yet as things turned out, leaving West Ham would turn out to be the easy part. At a loose end for the first time in his career, Wilshere endured some of his lowest moments as he began to contemplate a life without football. Or worse, football without him.
“It was tough,” he said. “If I’m honest, I didn’t think it would take as long as it did [to find a new club]. Sometimes your mind can play games with you. My whole life, I was so used to just going into training and taking it for granted. But time away made me realise how much I miss being around the lads.
“If I’d achieved everything I wanted in the game, I’d probably have called it a day when I left West Ham. I’ve been lucky enough to earn good money throughout my career, so I didn’t need to come and play football. But being out of the game for three months at home made me realise I want to play this game for as long as possible.”
And so, despite offers from other Championship clubs and even Asia, Wilshere decided to return to the club where he enjoyed a happy loan spell in 2016-17, helping them to their only top-half Premier League finish.
After training with Bournemouth since Christmas, Wilshere made his debut as a substitute against Derby on Tuesday night. The next step will be getting to full match fitness and establishing himself in Jason Tindall’s promotion-chasing midfield. “I wouldn’t say I’m a No 10 any more,” he says. “That role has changed. I’m either a No 6 or a No 8.”
And whatever Wilshere’s next challenge brings, for now he seems fit and content. Which, when you have experienced some of the setbacks he has over the last few years, is probably as much as you can ask for right now. “Once I heard Bournemouth were interested, I couldn’t stop smiling,” he says. “I didn’t get that feeling from any other club. I feel happy again. There’s a smile back on my face. My wife and kids were really emotional. Either that, or they were delighted to get me out of the house.”