Aston Villa midfielder Jack Grealish is hoping his first England call-up and playing with some of the Premier League’s biggest stars will help progress his career to the next level.
Grealish was given his first England call-up following the withdrawals of Marcus Rashford and Harry Winks from Gareth Southgate’s squad on Monday.
The 24-year-old could make his international debut in England’s Nations League matches against Iceland and Denmark, which are both being shown live on Sky Sports.
The Villa captain says he looks forward to learning from, rather than competing against, the likes of Raheem Sterling and Harry Kane.
“I believe in my own ability and I’m confident I can perform at international level,” Grealish told The Sun.
“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.”
Grealish was slow to get going after the restart, but his fine performances in Villa’s final four games dragged his boyhood club out of the drop zone and safe for another year. Only two players received more Sky Sports Premier League man-of-the-match awards in the 2019/20 season than Grealish’s nine, and his form throughout last season had Manchester United and others keeping a close eye.
The previous doubt surrounding his inclusion has been less about form and more about positioning. Grealish has played in several positions for Villa but performed best on the left of a front three. Even then, the 24-year-old had a relatively free role as Villa’s talisman. The team was focused around him, but that won’t be the case for England.
If Southgate wants to use him, pinning him to the left of a midfield three or at No 10 may not be advised, and that’s where Grealish’s inclusion gets tricky.
If England play 4-3-3, Raheem Sterling is cemented to the left of the three, Jadon Sancho to the right. If they play 4-2-3-1, the No 10 spot may be up for grabs. That’s likely to be the furthest forward Grealish could play, even if Southgate goes back to a five-man defence.
Southgate will want to pick a playmaker capable of doing it all with discipline. Though Grealish is defensively-minded – he can often be found tracking back before pulling Villa up the pitch 40 yards – his best work in the final third comes with freedom.