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Opinion: Jack Grealish has an opportunity to cement himself in Gareth Southgate's England squad after making long awaited debut

Jack Grealish impressed in his brief debut for England against Denmark in the Nations League.
Jack Grealish impressed in his brief debut for England against Denmark in the Nations League.
Aaron Gales
ANALYST
Modified 19 Sep 2020, 17:21 IST
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When Gareth Southgate named his initial squad for the UEFA Nations League double header against Iceland and Denmark, Aston Villa's Jack Grealish failed to make the cut despite enjoying an excellent season for his boyhood club in the 2019-20 season.

There was some surprise in the football world at his continued absence from the squad, particularly given the inclusion of uncapped midfielder Kalvin Phillips, who was selected based on his form for Championship winning side Leeds United.

When asked why Grealish had failed to make the cut, Southgate pointed towards the form of Mason Greenwood, and the calibre of the other players in his position.

Southgate said:

"With Jack, the simple answer is Mason Greenwood. He's competing in my view against Greenwood, Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Raheem Sterling. I know Villa have played him as an eight but I don't see him in that role for us."
"He could play as a 10 but we haven't played with a 10. Also some of those other players I've talked about would be very good 10s as well. He's a talent, there's no doubt about that. But I think Mason Greenwood's performances, his goalscoring ability and maturity was impossible to leave out."

As Southgate said, the players that Jack Grealish was competing with for a place in the squad were all great talents, but it still felt unfair not to give him an opportunity given his statistics for Aston Villa in 2019-20.

Jack Grealish's goal on the final day of the season, which secured Villa's Premier League status, was the crowning moment of a season in which he made 36 Premier League appearances, scoring eight times and claiming six assists.

Grealish was second in the table for most chances created with 91, with only Manchester City's Kevin De Bruyne in the standings ahead of him. He was also the most fouled player in the Premier League, with 167 offences against him, highlighting the respect shown to him by opposition teams.

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However, despite not being named in the original squad, Jack Grealish was eventually called up following withdrawals from a number of players including Marcus Rashford and Harry Winks.

While Grealish didn't feature against Iceland, he was finally afforded an opportunity against Denmark, coming off the bench with 15 minutes remaining to win his first England cap, five years after turning his back on the Republic of Ireland.

Although his time on the pitch was limited, Jack Grealish looked at home at the top level, with his opportunity coming after Mason Greenwood, broke the strict COVID-19 protocols and was sent home alongside Manchester City's Phil Foden.

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The challenge for Jack Grealish will be ensuring he features in Southgate's future squads and the announcement that he had signed a new five year contract with Aston Villa came as something of a surprise.

Heavily linked with a move away from the club, his decision will likely see him give the best years of his career to his boyhood club.

On one hand, Jack Grealish's decision to commit his future to Villa could make it harder for him to cement his place in the national squad against players who play for top six sides in England and compete in European competition.

Parallels could be drawn between Jack Grealish and Matt Le Tissier, who resisted the overtures of some of the biggest clubs in England to stay with Southampton. Le Tissier became a legend on the south-coast, playing 540 games and scoring 209 goals.

However, Le Tissier never got the international recognition he deserved, winning only eight caps, while he also failing to win a major honour at the club level.

It would be unfair to paint Grealish with the same brush, and while he might not have experienced European football, he has certainly proved he can shine on the big occasion.

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Since making his breakthrough in the 2014-15 season, Jack Grealish has played in an FA Cup final, a League Cup final, and two Championship play-off finals, winning the latter in the 2018-19 season.

Then there was that crucial goal on the final day of the season to stave off the threat of relegation. Grealish's decision to stay with Villa also guarantees him regular first team football.

The off-field misdemeanours of Phil Foden and Mason Greenwood handed him a chance which he grasped with both hands, and with less than 12 months to go until the postponed Euro 2020, Jack Grealish now has a real opportunity to cement himself in Southgate's squad.

With Jack Grealish continuing to mature on and off the pitch, and now entering the best years of his career, he will make it very hard for the England boss to ignore him when he names his final squad for the European Championships next summer.

Published 19 Sep 2020, 17:21 IST
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