Despite seeing his side taste defeat in the FA Youth Cup final against West Ham United, Jack Wilshere has revealed that his players’ achievements this season have convinced him that he was right to end his playing career.
Our under-18s head coach couldn’t quite pick up a winners’ medal as a player and manager after the Hammers ran out 5-1 victors at Emirates Stadium, but he let his players know post-match how impressed he has been with them over the course of their run to the final.
“I had a decision to make in the summer about whether I stopped my playing career and come and coach this team,” Jack said. “I was still unsure even when I came in as you never know if it’s the right decision until you’re there experiencing it and living it.
“The players have made it so that I made the right decision. They’ve given me feelings that I’ve never experienced in football before, and I’ll always love them for that. I’m proud of them.
“The overriding feeling is sadness because the boys deserve more than that, but that is part and parcel of development. Sometimes football is horrible, and they’re devastated because they deserve more, but now you’ll see the strong ones and who bounces back. I lost finals in my career and there’s no worse feeling but now it’s how you respond.”
Omari Benjamin’s early goal put us ahead and looked to potentially set us on our way to the silverware, however goals in quick succession from George Earthy and Callum Marshall turned the game on its head, before Gideon Kodua chipped in a fine third before half-time.
Despite creating some good chances to get back into contention during the second 45, Wilshere was left rueing those misses as Kaelen Casey and Josh Briggs converted late corners to put an undeserved gloss on the scoreline.
“We started really well, we went 1-0 up and I thought we were in control,” he added. “Then we gave the ball away and they punished us. Then they got another goal quickly and I think that affected us a little bit and we looked a little bit lost. You’re thinking, ‘OK, let’s get to half-time at 2-1’ but obviously the third goal happens and it’s very difficult.
“I said to the boys that we’ve been here before and I was confident we’d get chances. I think the scoreline flattered them a little bit because they scored two set pieces at the end when we were pushing.”
The final was played in front of over 34,000 supporters who backed their sides loudly throughout, and as well as dealing with the disappointment of the defeat Jack believes playing in front of a large crowd at our home will only spur his youngsters on to do it again at first-team level.
Wrapping up, he said: “A massive thank you to the supporters and the club to make this night possible. There’s no better experience for them - sometimes you have to remember there are 15 and 16-year-olds on the pitch and their dream is to play at the Emirates.
“Now they’re here and there’s 34,000 watching and that can have an effect, but I don’t think it did. It’s a big lesson for the boys and they should take it.”