England over Ireland: Has Grealish made the right national decision?
Despite having represented the Republic of Ireland at Under-17, Under-18 and Under-21 level, highly-rated Aston Villa attacker Jack Grealish has declared his allegiance to England for his senior international career.
The 20-year-old forward burst onto the scene last season for the Villans under Tim Sherwood, helping his club reach an FA Cup final and successfully avoid relegation, with his performances causing a tussle between both England and Ireland for his services.
Although that tug-of-war recently came to an end, as Grealish announced he has opted to play for England at senior level, his country of birth, delivering somewhat of a bitter blow to the Irish, who are 100/1 to win Euro 2016 qualifying Group D.
— Shay Given (@No1shaygiven) September 28, 2015
But has the youngster made the right decision? It may come across as disrespectful to suggest Grealish would have had an easier chance of gaining minutes on the pitch in green, with current Irish boss Martin O’Neill certainly not the type of character to introduce a young talent for reasons other than their form, something assistant-coach Roy Keane would undoubtedly back-up.
Although, Ireland did come calling for Grealish ahead of a friendly encounter with England in June this year, but the Villa starlet’s negative response to such a call-up was early evidence of his relatively unsurprising final choice.
“I’ve decided to give my allegiance to England,” Grealish declared. “It was not an easy decision as Ireland has a special place with me through my family. However, I have decided to represent my country of birth.”
Having been featuring in the green of Ireland since Under-17 level, spurred on by his Dublin-born father, many followers of the Emerald Isle will feel the youngster has turned his back on the country that nurtured him internationally and witnessed his talents grow.
— Jack Grealish (@JackGrealish1) September 28, 2015
To an extent that is true, but having been born in the West Midlands, Grealish is choosing to remain true to his English roots and potentially sees Roy Hodgson’s Three Lions as a greater platform and stepping stone for his future.
With England having already secured their place at next summer’s Euro 2016 in France, Grealish now has the chance of featuring at the tournament, despite being in limbo over his international future during the majority of qualification.
Fans may moan that the Villa prospect hasn’t kept his trust to Ireland with his choice, but in fact, 18 out of the last 40 players in the previous Irish squad were actually developed by English, Scottish and Northern Irish systems, putting to bed any talk of disloyalty.
England sit comfortably at the summit of Group E with a perfect record so far, and are 11/1 to win in France, while Ireland are having to dig deep and fight in Group D, where they have defiantly climbed to third-place behind giants Germany and Poland.
Grealish’s next possible outing should be against Stoke City this upcoming weekend, when Hodgson could be an unsurprising visitor to Villa Park, as he mulls over calling the recently-declared attacker into his in-form set-up.
Although, after a single goal in 30 outings for Villa since last season, without all the hype surrounding his international allegiance, would Grealish actually warrant a place in England’s squad based on form alone?
The youngster has shone brightly at times for Villa, as well as during a previous loan spell with Notts County, and has clearly bonded well with club boss Sherwood, who recently slapped a bizarre £60m price-tag on his starlet. But a lack of physical strength and a potentially costly lack of discipline, having picked up 10 cautions and red card for County and Villa since September 2013, could easily see Grealish stutter for England, if he actually plays.
Despite his slight flaws, though, Grealish possesses all the talent and attacking attributes that can propel him to stardom at Villa Park, but it’s on the international stage where the spotlight will now be shining brightly on his progress and whether his decision was truly the right one.