(written by Jack Bibb)
Low-cut socks, slicked-back hair and calves the size of tree stumps. Jack Grealish was a maverick the day he stepped foot into the Premier League and is arguably the most gifted player England have had the pleasure of witnessing since the 1990s when Paul Gascoigne donned the Three Lions shirt.
Threatened with relegation in the 2019-20 season, Aston Villa’s talisman, Grealish, lead the survival charge by scoring eight times and assisting six as they escaped the drop by a single point.
Half-way through this season and Villa have had a change of fortunes, finding themselves perched nicely in ninth position after a storming start to the season, breezing past Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool in the process.
The Villa captain has been pivotal to their current success, racking up an impressive six goals and 10 assists in 21 games- statistically his best ever professional output. Grealish’s dynamism, intelligence and relentless work ethic put him in good stead to continue his stellar form and perhaps guide Villa to European qualification for the first time since the 2009-10 season.
His ability will be much welcomed by the national team this summer as the Three Lions are set to lock horns with Europe’s elite, vying for the Euro 2021 Championship. Having played for the Republic of Ireland at youth level, Grealish ultimately decided to pledge his allegiance to the English national team and his early season performances were rewarded by Gareth Southgate, who handed him his first cap in September of 2020.
Grealish, now capped five times, will face stiff competition from England’s other excellent creators Phil Foden, James Maddison and Mason Mount. Despite this, there is a general agreement amongst pundits and fans that he is the frontrunner for a starting spot and is set to be a crucial piece to England’s puzzle.
Villa’s number ten is recognised as one of the trickiest ball-carriers in the league. His pace and power combined with his silky touch make him difficult to stop in full motion, leading him to be fouled more times (96) than any other player in the Premier League. This could prove to be an invaluable asset for Southgate’s England side who racked up eight goals from set-pieces at the 2018 World Cup- the most of any side at the competition.
Since England’s triumph in 1966, they have not yet managed to achieve the same feat of winning an international tournament. Shortcomings in the 1990 and 2018 World Cups, as well as the 1996 Euro’s, have been the closest the Three Lions have come to tasting the sweet victory that has, now, evaded them for 55 years.
However, 2021 brings around a new opportunity for the national team and they are marked down as odds on favourites to win the Euro’s this summer. Grealish has been likened to Paul Gascoigne for his flair and creativity and has welcomed these comments, saying that he “thrives off those kinds of comparisons.” Yet, the midfielder has admitted that he is still far away from those ‘Gazza’s’ accomplishments as he has “not even played at a tournament yet,” and until he does he cannot be considered in the same bracket of greatness.
It is anticipated that, due to his match-winning ability, that Southgate will install his trust in the Villa player to guide England to glory, the same way Bobby Robson and Terry Venables did so with Gascoigne.