Good things come to those who… work extremely hard and never give up!

Gareth Southgate named his final 26 players to take on Europe’s elite in the delayed 2020 European Championships. Included in that squad – Jack Grealish!

Now, some don’t see Jack as the complete role model. His antics of the past and mistakes outside of football are always used against him, but for me he is the perfect role model and an inspiration. Here is why…

This international tournament squad selection has been six years in the making, with setback after setback. His talents have been repeatedly questioned and Jack has had to prove himself above and beyond any player called up for England. Did he give up? NO! Did he continue to work hard and back himself? YOU BET!

It’s been a long slog from the day Jack Grealish lit up Wembley Stadium as a 19-year-old lad with a man-of-the-match performance against Liverpool in a 2-1 FA Cup Semi-Final win back in 2015. Grealish was lorded by the mainstream media, and rightly so. “The next Gazza” started doing the rounds, which prompted a decision Grealish had been mauling over for the majority of his fledgling career – a switch of allegiance from Ireland to his place of birth, England.

In his early teenage years, he was called up for an England youth squad but had to withdraw due to illness. Following that he played for Ireland at Under-17, 18 and 21’s. A battle commenced between Martin O’Neill and Roy Hodgson for his services, with Ireland’s ex-Villa manager promising him an immediate call-up to Ireland’s European Championship qualifiers squad.

The England versus Ireland saga finally concluded with Grealish choosing to represent England, and the stage was set for the start of an exciting England career.

Progress halted! Aston Villa Football Club suffer a humiliating and toxic relegation from the Premier League with Jack’s only real contribution of the season a beautifully placed curler in the top corner at the King Power Stadium.

It was Gareth Southgate who gave Grealish his first call-up to an England squad since his switch of allegiance, naming him in his U-21 squad for the Toulon Tournament 2016. A squad including Pickford, Chilwell, Hause, Targett and Ward-Prowse.

England were crowned Toulon Tournament Champions after beating hosts France 2-1 in the Final. England’s victory completed a perfect record of five out of five wins, with Grealish contributing two goals en route to the final.

Then followed three seasons in the Championship, and international wilderness.

The eyes of the media were firmly drawn back to Jack Grealish following a disgusting on-field attack from a fan of a small local club. Jack did however go on to have the best day of his life, serving up a royal dose of poetic justice in scoring the only goal in front of the travelling Villa faithful!

This was the 2nd game in a record-breaking 10 game-winning run in which he stared in all. Scoring an absolute worldie of a goal away at Rotherham – whispers of an England call-up were being muted!

This was, however, the beginning of Southgate’s long list of reasons not to pick Jack Grealish! Villa and Jack were in red-hot form in the Championship, but talk of a Grealish call-up was rapidly squashed with Southgate citing he had to be playing at a higher level – instead selecting Callum Hudson-Odoi, who at the time hadn’t a Premier League appearance to his name!

More Wembley joy followed at the end of that campaign – Villa were promoted back to the elite level of English football, beating Mason Mount’ Derby 2-1 in the PlayOff Final. Then came the time for Jack Grealish’s talent to grace that higher level!

Many of us thought that, if Grealish started life in the Premier League in the same form he left the Championship, a call-up to the autumn fixtures would be on the cards – unfortunately not! Jack Grealish was winning the plaudits from all pundits within the media – excited by this unique and unpredictable talents. Southgate, however, wanted more.

2019 concluded without a sniff of a call-up. Then broke a global pandemic and the halting of the season. Villa return in June 2020 to pull off an underrated great escape with the Captain scoring in a 1-1 draw that sealed survival on the final day at the London Stadium.

Grealish was again overlooked before the start of the 2020/2021 season with Southgate calling up Kalvin Phillips of Leeds United, who had only played at Championship level – a massive u-turn from Southgate after telling Grealish that Championship players needed to prove themselves at a higher level before being considered for selection.

A new five-year deal signed at his boyhood club, along with some A* recruitment, provided the confidence for Villa to make their best start to a season since 1930/31. Jack Grealish scored 3 goals in the opening 3 games, two of those in a 7-2 victory against champions, Liverpool.

Then came the drama. Southgate controversially overlooked Grealish yet again, despite being arguably the top-performing Premier League player! The speculation of a personal grudge hotted up.

“He’s playing as an 8 for Villa – I’ve got Mason Mount, Number 11? I’ve got Rashford and Sancho? He needs to show more speed and athletism in the wide areas.” Grealish proceeded to make a mockery of Southgate’s excuses!

It did eventually happen. 24-year-old Jack Grealish got his England call-up! Oh, but it was by a default in the form of Marcus Rashford withdrawing.

Our talented playmaker finally made his debut against Denmark in a 0-0 stalemate in the Nations League, lighting up a dull game with a cameo appearance! His performance was inevitably downplayed by Southgate, instead deflecting all Grealish praise to how well Mason Mount played!

More call-ups have followed, and the drama has finally diluted. However, Grealish’s season was abruptly halted by a three-month injury lay-off, leading to speculation he could miss out with Jesse Lingard bang in form. Alas, Jack made it back with four games to go and will now wear the number 7 shirt for England at Euro 2020! COME ON JACK – light this tournament up!

So, for me, a perfect role model is someone that never gives up, works extremely hard, remains respectful, loyal and professional, and never stops believing in his talents – my Captain, Jack Grealish!

Ryan.


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