England end long wait for Grealish call
Villa captain added to senior squad for Nations League ties Rashford ‘gutted’ after pulling out along with Winks
Aston Villa captain Jack Grealish’s prolonged wait for senior England recognition is finally over after he was summoned into the squad for the first time yesterday.
Grealish joined up with Gareth Southgate and the squad as the national head coach reacted to two significant withdrawals ahead of the Nations League games against Iceland and Denmark.
Manchester United striker Marcus Rashford and Tottenham midfielder Harry Winks were released from international duty yesterday.
The Football Association deferred explanations for the duo’s absence to their respective clubs, although Rashford has recently been troubled by an ankle injury.
For Grealish, patience has finally been rewarded. There was a growing clamour for the 24-year-old to be given a chance, especially after his Premier League performances were so influential in Villa retaining their top-flight status last season.
Five years after choosing to represent England having featured for the Republic of Ireland junior teams, Grealish could now earn his first cap wearing the Three Lions. Grealish last night tweeted it was “a dream come true” to receive his first senior call-up while he admitted he thought it “was going to happen five years ago” when he decided to switch allegiances.
He told The Sun: “I don’t want to be on the outside looking in again. But I know for that to be the case I’ve got to make a good impression. It’s been a long time coming but this is something I’ve always wanted to do.”
He has represented England at under-21 level, and played under Southgate during a victorious campaign at the 2016 Toulon Tournament. Grealish had hoped Southgate’s promotion to senior manager would enhance his chances. Speaking in 2016 about his under-21 experiences, he said: “I’m trying to keep my place with the 21s and then try to get into the first team. I feel I can go and play for England. That’s definitely my target. That’s my dream.”
Despite those hopes, the Villa captain was unable to impress sufficiently to force his way into the squad when everyone was available, and was surprisingly overlooked again when Southgate made his initial selection last Tuesday with the England coach suggesting competition for places in attacking areas was the biggest obstacle.
“I’m grown up enough to understand that players are going to be disappointed if they’re not
selected,” he said. “But you can’t compare selecting Kalvin [Phillips] with selecting Jack – it’s a different position. Jack’s not a defensive pivot. In my view, he’s a winger or a No10. We have fantastic competition for places in that area of the pitch. I just see others being ahead of Jack at the moment.”
Now the loss of Rashford and Winks has presented a chance. Given how long he has had to wait, Grealish is under no illusions about the need to make an instant impression in training and in competitive action should he feature.
While the Villa man celebrated his call-up, there was disappointment for those forced out.
Rashford said on social media that he was still seeking match fitness. United are at the start of their pre-season preparations following an extended campaign because of their Europa League involvement.
“Gutted,” wrote Rashford on his Twitter page. “Never want to let this team down, but these fixtures just came a little too soon. I tried my best, but I have to focus on starting the season at my strongest for club and country. Good luck boys, I’ll be cheering you on from home.”
Meanwhile, Uefa has outlined plans in the event of Nations League matches being affected by Covid-19.
The England squad underwent testing for coronavirus upon convening, and it can take up to 24 hours for the results. Uefa’s executive committee ruled that matches can go ahead as long as a national squad have 13 players available, including at least one goalkeeper.
If that is not the case, and the match cannot be rescheduled, there will be a ruling by Uefa’s control, ethics and disciplinary body on where responsibility for failing to play the fixture lies.
Any country blamed for the postponement would be forced to forfeit the match. If neither nation was deemed responsible, lots would be drawn to decide between a 1-0 win for either side and a goalless draw.
England meet Iceland in Reykjavik on Saturday, before travelling to Copenhagen to play Denmark on Tuesday.