Jack Grealish reckons England call-up will help lift him to the next level
JACK GREALISH has seen first-hand how good Harry Kane, Raheem Sterling, Phil Foden and Trent Alexander-Arnold are — the hard way.
Now the Aston Villa ace cannot wait to benefit from having some of the top talent in world football — and the cream of English football — on his side at last.
Grealish had to dig deep to keep his beloved Villa in the Premier League on the final day of a traumatic, Covid-hit season.
His crucial strike at West Ham on Survival Sunday earned Dean Smith’s side the precious point they craved.
However, he knows playing for England is a whole new ball game.
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And Grealish is determined to prove he is capable of handling the pressure of having a nation’s hopes on his shoulders — now he has three lions on his shirt instead of one.
The 24-year-old Villa skipper revealed: “I believe in my own ability and I’m confident I can perform at international level.
“But I also want to improve and I’m eager to learn what it takes to be a success at this level.
“If anything, I believe the better the players you play with or against, then the better you will perform yourself. I’ve always believed that.
“When you look around the England squad, they are not just the best players in the country — they are the best in the world.
“I’ve played against these guys when they’ve been playing for Liverpool, Manchester City and Spurs, with not a lot of success!
“Now I can’t wait to actually train beside them and, hopefully, team up with the likes of Harry Kane, Raheem Sterling and Trent Alexander-Arnold, rather than trying to stop them.
“I know I can become an even better player by learning from these amazing players.
“I want to show the manager what I’m all about, play to the best of my ability and, hopefully, keep my place in the squad.
“Sure, I had planned and hoped it would happen earlier in my career.
“Five years ago Roy Hodgson was on the verge of selecting me after I chose to represent England instead of Ireland.
“But our next games were against the Republic of Ireland and Scotland and it was put on hold. That was frustrating. Now all I want is the chance to show what I can do — it’s the biggest challenge of my career and I can’t wait.
“Hopefully playing with the best players in the country will bring out the best in me.
“Some of the guys in the squad made the breakthrough at 18 and 19 — I’m 24 but I’m desperate to learn and improve.”
Grealish famously switched allegiance from the Republic of Ireland to England at Under-21 level after being voted Ireland’s Under-21 Player of the Year.
It was a controversial and difficult choice but one the kid from Solihull knew, deep down, he had to make.
He said: “The first time I walked into the England dressing room and saw my name on the back of my shirt — and the three lions on the front — it was like a dream come true. I’m English, my parents are English. It was a proud moment for me.
“As a kid I used to look up to Wayne Rooney who was my hero growing up.
“My first dream was to play for Villa — the next dream was to play for England.
“The strange thing is, as I played a lot I’ve never actually been to an England game as a fan.
“I have no idea if I will be selected this time around. But if I am lucky enough to be called on, I’ll give it everything I have and try to learn from the experience.
“It would be nice in a full stadium under different circumstances.
“But the prospect of walking out at a full Wembley Stadium later in the season is something to hopefully look forward to.”
Despite operating in midfield at times, Grealish was Villa’s top scorer with eight top-flight goals and romped the club’s and supporters’ player-of-the-season awards last term.
A national debate has raged about exactly where his best position is and feelings run high on whether Grealish is a left winger, a No 10 or an out-and-out midfielder.
Yet the Villa star says he is willing to become a Jack of all trades to help England and insists he does not mind where Gareth Southgate wants him to perform — he just wants to play.
With England facing Iceland on Saturday, Grealish said: “I just want to get my head down and work hard.
“I’m proud of the fact I can play in different positions — left wing, midfield or No 10. I’ll wait and see what happens.
“It’s been a long time coming but this is something I’ve always wanted to do — represent my country to the best of my ability.”
Grealish knows there is one patriotic England fan who will love it when he finally pulls on a senior England shirt — Villa’s most famous fan Prince William!
Fans have joked HRH may have pulled a few strings and Grealish admits he was given a huge lift last year when he received a note from Villa’s top VIP punter.
He said: “After the incident when I was attacked on the pitch against Birmingham, I received a postcard from Prince William with some kind words of encouragement.
“It was totally unexpected and hand-written too. I appreciated the gesture and know he will be delighted — like the rest of Villa’s fans — at the prospect of me doing my best for England.”
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