OLIVER HOLT: England must embrace Jack Grealish's talent
OLIVER HOLT: England must embrace Jack Grealish’s talent amid this strange perception he is sweating on a place in the Euros squad… he could have a similar impact to that of Gazza in 1990
- Jack Grealish should be pressing for a starting spot for England against Croatia
- The Aston Villa star ran the show for England in their defeat away at Belgium
- Grealish is not Paul Gascoigne but he is the closest thing we have got to him
- The midfielder is the type of player that thrives on the biggest stage
- Gascoigne squeezed into England’s 1990 World Cup squad & led them to semis
It is time to stop indulging the idea that Jack Grealish should be sweating on his place in the England squad for this summer’s European Championship. If there were a plane to board, Grealish should be one of the first players to walk up the steps. The question is not whether he should be in the squad but whether he should be in the team for England’s opening game against Croatia.
More pertinently, there is no evidence Gareth Southgate is considering omitting him from his party when it is announced some time towards the end of next month. It was always likely, after three games against easier opponents in the last fortnight, that the stock of others would rise while Grealish was out injured but that does not mean Southgate has forgotten how important he can be.
Southgate has a wealth of attacking talent at his disposal but, even within that context, it is easy to mount an argument that Grealish should be one of the first names on the manager’s teamsheet for that match against the Croats at Wembley on June 13. His recent absences haven’t changed the fact that he is the player who offers England something different creatively. Just as Paul Gascoigne did at the 1990 World Cup.
Jack Grealish is arguably England’s most exciting player – and thrives on the big stage
Look, this is not about Grealish versus Mason Mount. I have no time for detractors of Mount. I understand why Southgate started him in all three World Cup qualifiers over the last two weeks and I hope he starts in England’s first game of the Euros against Croatia as well.
This is not about Grealish versus Bukayo Saka, either. Saka is a player of poise and subtlety and skill who sees passes others don’t see and whose movement is deft and intelligent. He is a wonderful talent. It is not about Grealish versus Jadon Sancho, either. Sancho and Saka are more reasons to be optimistic about England’s direction of travel.
This is not about Grealish versus anyone, really. His talent speaks for itself. There is no need to try to denigrate anyone else to justify his inclusion. If he recovers from the shin injury that kept him out of the reckoning for the recent trio of internationals and picks up where he left off for Aston Villa against Fulham, he should be pressing for a place in the first team against Croatia.
The Aston Villa skipper will be hoping to put his injury troubles behind him ahead of the Euros
Opinion is fickle but some seem to have forgotten very quickly the rave reviews that Grealish received after England’s Nations League defeat by Belgium last November. Yes, England lost but the consensus was that Grealish was Southgate’s most accomplished player, utterly at home against one of the best teams in the world. Everyone agreed no one needed to doubt him at international level again.
He was brilliant in that game. There were eye-catching moments of genius like his on-the-run flick over the head of Thomas Meunier but his performance was about an awful lot more than tricks. He ran the show for England. He was the team’s driving force. He had the confidence and the technical ability to run at the Belgium defence. He had the bravery to excel.
Roy Keane talked about that bravery after the game. He talked about Grealish’s courage under pressure, his ability to affect the game even when he was pressed by the opposition. ‘We keep talking about England trying to win something and go to the next level,’ Keane said. ‘You definitely feel they need a player like Jack in there to go to that level.’
England managers have a history of being suspicious of players like Grealish when it comes to the crunch and even Gascoigne, the greatest England player of the last 50 years, only forced his way into the reckoning for a place in Sir Bobby Robson’s 1990 World Cup squad six weeks beforehand with a fine performance against Czechoslovakia.
Grealish is not Paul Gascoigne but he is the closest thing England have got to him
Grealish is not Gascoigne but he is the closest thing we have got to him and he is the type of player who thrives on the big stage. Gascoigne squeezed into that England squad in 1990 and led England to the semi-finals. Imagine if Sir Bobby had listened to those who urged him to make a safer choice instead.
There is no reason to think that Grealish could not have a similar impact on the England side at the Euros. There is a lot of attacking talent at Southgate’s disposal. Grealish would complement it. We keep hearing suggestions that Southgate does not trust Grealish defensively but this is also a squad that boasts outstanding talents like Declan Rice. If Grealish needs a little license to roam, Rice can give him the platform to do it.
England were impressive in spells against Poland, but in the second half in particular, they were crying out for Grealish’s inspiration. ‘Grealish brings that different option,’ former England star Ashley Cole said after that game in Belgium, ‘that different way of playing. It’s not about the system.’
He’s right. Grealish could play a number of different roles in an England team. Against Belgium, he played alongside Mount just behind Harry Kane. He could play on one side of the front three or as part of a three-man midfield. He is a clever, adaptable player. He can use both feet.
Grealish should be pressing for a starting spot in Gareth Southgate’s side at the Euros
I don’t envy Southgate’s job picking this squad. Sure, it’s good that he has choices and he will have to leave some very good players out. It is hard to imagine that Grealish will be one of them.
I’d like Southgate to pick Trent Alexander-Arnold against Croatia, too and even if that looks like an increasingly forlorn hope, this remains a group of players who have a chance of winning a major tournament for the first time since 1966. They are contenders. And if Grealish is in the team, they will be stronger contenders.
I’d like a team that lines up like this for the first game: Pickford; Alexander-Arnold, Stones, Maguire, Chilwell; Mount, Rice, Foden; Sterling, Kane, Grealish. We have an England team brimming with the kind of talents that can scare most defences. Grealish is one of them. So let’s not turn away from him. Let’s embrace him.
CAN AGUERO ENJOY THE PERFECT ENDING AT CITY?
My favourite Manchester City player of all time is Peter Barnes. That does not mean he is the greatest City player, just that he was the player who gave me the greatest enjoyment. I’d put David Silva next and Georgi Kinkladze as the last of my top three.
Sergio Aguero, who announced last week that he was leaving the club at the end of the season, has a strong claim to the greatest City player to have pulled on the shirt. He has been a magnificent striker for the club, and one of the deadliest goalscorers the Premier League has ever seen.
I still think Colin Bell is the club’s greatest player but there is no right answer in that debate. What is undeniable is Aguero’s place in City’s history. More than any other man, he is a symbol of City’s transformation from a team that had gained a reputation for underachievement and misfortune into the most successful English club of the last decade.
The way he and the club have handled his impending exit has been all class. All that is missing from his CV is the Champions League. What a fitting conclusion it would be to Aguero’s time in Manchester if he were to win Europe’s biggest club prize in Istanbul on May 29.
Sergio Aguero will be desperate to end his illustrious Man City career with European glory
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