Fabio Capello will build an England side around Jack Wilshere for the first time after confirming the integral role the teenager will play in the national side's future and likening his talent to that of a youthful Franco Baresi, Paolo Maldini and Raúl.
Wilshere will make his first start for his country against Denmark, anchoring midfield alongside the stand-in captain Frank Lampard, with Capello insistent that the 19-year-old boasts the ability and intelligence to flourish at the highest level. His England career to date amounts to seven minutes as a substitute against Hungary in August, though the Italian believes Wilshere has made significant strides even since then having become a regular with Arsenal.
"Even in five months he's improved a lot," said Capello. "Now he needs to gain experience in big games, like in the Champions League and in the matches against the other four [title contenders] in England. That will give him an important experience. But he's 19. I remember the best players that I managed – Baresi, Maldini, Raúl – and they started really young. It's their talent. You have to wait now and let him improve more."
That praise was eye-catching, particularly given Capello had rated Lionel Messi's (admittedly weaker) right foot as only a "six out of 10" in an interview with La Gazzetta dello Sport. Yet the Italian considers Wilshere a key member of his senior squad, around whom he can construct England's side certainly for the remainder of his tenure as manager, and he will persevere with the youngster even if he is eclipsed by the Danes at the Parken stadium.
"Absolutely, no problem," said Capello. "He's a talent but the senior players around him have to help him. It's not about him helping the other players. He has to play normally and it'll be really important that the other players help him. I hope he goes on to play a lot of games for England because, if he does, then we'll have found a solution for the player in front of the back four.
"I've spoken with [the Arsenal manager] Arsène Wenger about Wilshere's position. When he started out he preferred to be an attacking midfielder but he can play in this [deeper] role. I've used the example of a Claude Makelele but I remember [Andrea] Pirlo started playing just behind a forward player but then moved back to play in front of the back four. An intelligent player can play anywhere. We don't have England players who can play in this position like him."
The Football Association risks infuriating Wenger should it opt to select the teenager for the summer's European Under-21 Championship in Denmark, a tournament for which he is eligible but which begins just a week after the senior side confront Switzerland in a qualifying tie for Euro 2012. Wenger was unimpressed when Theo Walcott was included in identical circumstances two years ago and has since made it known he would prefer Wilshere to feature for one side or the other but not both.
"We will have to speak with his club side before we decide," said Capello. "But he'll be with us in June against Switzerland. That is sure. But Jack plays with confidence, never with fear. That's incredible for someone so young. If you play so young with a team like Arsenal, who are second in the table – they're not a team trying just to stay in the Premier League – then that's a big thing. But the most important thing is the other players clearly have confidence in him. He's ready to start."
There was a warning delivered by a club-mate and opponent tonight, Nicklas Bendtner, that too much should not be expected too soon of a player who had started only one Premier League game for Arsenal before this season. "Jack is definitely capable of playing for his country now," said Bendtner. "But young players are always put under a lot of pressure very early in England. You always throw players around really quickly. Jack has got potential – he is a grounded lad and he can be a great, great player for England.
"I have my own theories on how Theo Walcott was treated by England but I don't want to get too much into that because it will probably just get me in trouble. But Theo can be a lesson for the way you treat Jack. It's important to take it easy and realise he is a kid. He's still young even though he seems very mature, as if he has played a long time. He is still developing and can get better for five or six years still."
Lampard's presence at Wilshere's side should offer some reassurance, with the Chelsea midfielder to become the 45th England captain since the second world war and the sixth to lead the side out under Capello.
The 32-year-old spoke of his surprise and pride at his appointment in the absence of the injured Rio Ferdinand and Steven Gerrard, though it is unlikely that he will complete the 90 minutes against the Danes.
Capello will start with Darren Bent in attack and use all six available substitutions, handing Scott Parker a return to the side in the second half. Joleon Lescott was paired with John Terry in drills at the stadium in Copenhagen, and Ashley Cole will become the most capped full-back in England's history when he overtakes Kenny Sansom by making his 87th appearance.