History provides proof of the folly of trusting in the recovery of injured players as England live in hope for the World Cup
As Jack Wilshere left Wembley, he was smiling, with no sign of a limp, and happily oblivious to the seriousness of the situation. Doctors will say that can happen when there is damage to the navicular bone. First there is the initial burst of excruciating pain but it can quickly pass. Wilshere was talkative, relaxed, looking forward to the next week of his professional life. "I am fine for the weekend," he promised.
Yet it always seemed slightly peculiar. Wilshere's first reaction after Daniel Agger's studs slammed into the top of his left foot was to jut out his arm and wave, blindly, for help. In football everyone knows what that signal means. Wilshere looked as if he was crying. He rubbed his eyes and covered his face. Over on the touchline Roy Hodgson looked on anxiously. "It was a nasty one," the England manager said afterwards. "I'm relieved, more than anything. It was a 50-50 and they both went for it. Thankfully it's just a bruise rather than anything more serious."
Wilshere, walking freely, had the same misinformation. "When I was going for it I thought: 'I'm going to get this.' About a step before, I realised: 'Oh, no I'm not.' But I'm not going to pull out of a tackle. If I had pulled out I would have got hurt even more. But it's fine now. I have had a scan already and all it showed was a bit of bruising."
But the pain returned in the morning. What we know now represents devastating news for Wilshere, Arsenal and, potentially, England. Six weeks of rehabilitation will take Wilshere towards the end of April before he can resume full training. After that it is an awfully small window in which to prove his fitness, bearing in mind Hodgson names his World Cup squad on 13 May and has just made it clear he will not include anyone who is "not 100% fit to go there and do a good job over someone who is fit and can do a good job".
England have a long history of gambling in this manner, from Kevin Keegan and Trevor Brooking in 1982 to Bryan Robson in 1986 and 1990, David Beckham in 2002 and Wayne Rooney in 2006 and 2010. Hodgson did it himself in Euro 2012 with Scott Parker, who was struggling with an achilles problem.
"He wasn't 100%," the England manager now says. Would he do it again? "The answer to your question is obvious," he replied. "With the amount of people knocking quite heavily on the door it would be a bit sad to leave out someone who is 100% fit, and in fantastic form, if someone else wasn't fit and might just recover during the tournament. One thing I can tell you is that I don't think any player would expect that, or for me to show loyalty, at a time when they are not 100% fit."
In Wilshere's case Hodgson is such an admirer of the 22-year-old he will give him every possible chance. Equally nobody should be surprised from here if Wilshere does not make the final cut. Wilshere is not renowned for his rapid recovery from injuries or for quickly regaining his match sharpness. His fitness has been a recurring issue for club and country ever since his ankle problems flared up, under the stresses of his first full season in Arsène Wenger's team, resulting in 17 months out of the game and numerous follow-up problems. Arsenal's statement made the point that his latest injury was unrelated to his previous issues. Yet we have seen before, most notably with Beckham and Rooney, that there is more to it than just waiting for the bone to heal.
Beckham, one of the fittest players at Manchester United, was rushed back from his broken metatarsal to play in Japan after a national fervour that included the Sun publishing a front-page picture of his foot and asking readers to rub it at a selected time for good luck.
"From the evidence of the tournament David couldn't have been all right," Sir Alex Ferguson reflects in his latest autobiography. "The proof that physical frailty was still preying on his mind could be seen when he jumped out of a tackle near the touchline." That was the sequence of play that led to Brazil's equaliser in Shizuoka.
Rooney was probably in even worse condition for Germany in 2006. "It was unfair to him, to the rest of the players and to the supporters," Ferguson writes. The lesson of history? Wilshere cannot be risked if it means, in football parlance, being a passenger.
Hodgson can at least be encouraged that the competition for midfield places is as strong as it ever has been under his tenure. All the same a fully functioning Wilshere was close to being a mandatory first-team pick and precisely the kind of player England will need if the emphasis is on improving how the team takes care of the ball.
Wenger, notoriously protective of his player and with his own needs, is certainly entitled to an explanation about how England's medical team missed the injury and why a player who had taken such a heavy blow was kept on the pitch against Denmark for another 47 minutes.
"It was always the plan to replace him just after half-time," Hodgson said. "Not least of all because Arsenal have some important games coming up, a lunchtime kick-off against Everton [in the FA Cup] on Saturday and then against Bayern Munich [the second leg of their Champions League tie]. We had it in mind not to keep him on the field for too long. The kick made that a more obvious decision."
Wenger will issue his response on Friday but, whoever is in the right, everyone will feel the same regret. Hodgson lost almost a fifth of his entire Euro 2012 squad when Gary Cahill, Frank Lampard, Gareth Barry and John Ruddy pulled out just before the tournament and he could have made virtually an entire team out of the full list of absentees. Wilshere was among them. Two years on Hodgson has already lost Theo Walcott and now, potentially, a second Arsenal player. He must wonder who is next.