Long heralded as a midfield superstar of the future, England’s latest international break may well have earmarked the long awaited breakthrough of one of the finest footballers to grace the engine room since a certain Paul Gascoigne.
Touted for greatness by many on the terraces and the press room, it is only now that Jack Grealish has been blessed with the trust of a manager in Gareth Southgate who has certainly not been swayed by the ever expanding media clamor to include the Birmingham born trickster into his starting eleven, that is until now.
Captain of his home town club Aston villa, his form in the previous season where Villa narrowly escaped relegation was suitably excellent, yet Southgate remained unconvinced, leaving him out of England squads on a regular basis.
Since the season has got underway both the club and himself have begun the season in fine fettle, with the villans currently nestled in 6th place. Whilst Grealish himself has been the chief architect of much of Aston Villa’s impressive form, registering four goals and five assists from the first seven games of the season, including a monumental 7-2 victory over the current champions Liverpool.
For Southgate to ignore his early season contributions would have been foolhardy, and he duly rewarded him with three starts in the last three fixtures against Belgium, Iceland, and the Republic of Ireland. The latter being the country that he had controversially shunned in order to represent England.
In return, Southgate was repaid by the bucket load with three performances that oozed composure, style and charisma. A player not afraid to take the game to the opposition , a constant menace, a creator, a goalscorer, and the most fouled man in the Premier League.
It can certainly be a valid argument that the England managers tough love may well have provoked an internal resilience and toughness in Grealish, who much like Gascoigne himself has been no stranger to off the pitch shenanigans making the front pages rather than the back. As during the first national lockdown in April he was caught breaking restrictions and became a figure of derision rather than the new found genius he is being touted as right here and now.
What will always be evident with the general public however is that regardless of your off the field indiscretions, as long as you give your heart and soul to the England badge, you can and will be forgiven for your sins. Therefore it is easy to see why the comparisons to the much loved Gazza are banded across our national newspapers and various social media channels.
Gazza himself courted much controversy throughout his career off the pitch, yet every time he stepped over the white line his ability on the field and emotion filled displays captured the imagination of us the fans like no other in recent memory. He shone on the grandest stages and made watching England a joy to behold, as he wove his magic across the pitch and every player who was fortunate enough to share a pitch with him lay testament to the fact he is a once in a lifetime talent.
Yet could we the emergence of a new maverick who can pick up the mantle from the Geordie artist and flourish in time for England’s assault on the re-arranged European Championships in 2021?
I believe that he certainly houses the talent to be a key cog in the England machine for many years to come but it remains to be seen if the mental resiliency to be able to perform at an elite level is in his make up. Certainly he shows a maturity on the pitch and is captain of the club he professes to love and recently signed a contract extension that will now fend off the many suitors that may well have distracted him from his on the field duties. In kind he has has finally got his just rewards with his recent maiden England start and after the last week it is certainly in his hands according to Southgate if he is to stay there, after impressing the previously stubborn and dubious England manager.
It is my hope that with the extra onus and responsibility placed on his twenty five year old shoulders, Grealish can raise his performances to a new level and if he does it consistently and shines at a major tournament I would then suggest it would be time to favorably draw comparisons between the two. However, I believe that Jack is his own man and must focus on the attributes that have won him so many glowing plaudits from fans and fellow players alike.
Unfortunately in English football we have seen many false dawns on this matter, as after one or two good performances we have seemingly found the new Gazza on numerous occasions, and like many others before him I hope that Jack doesn’t fall by the wayside.
The roll call of failed pretenders to the Geordie wizard’s throne make for unpleasant reading, with some cursed by injury and others succumbing to the the trappings and temptations that are now on offer off the pitch for the modern professional.
Jack Wilshere instantly springs into the forefront of this thought process, as at the tender age of 18 it seemed he was destined for the very top in the sport as his performances in an Arsenal shirt saw a meteoric rise in the pecking order for club and country, as it seemed as though we had that world class operator in our ranks once again.
His appalling injury record soon shattered any hope for him as a worthy successor, with persistent failure to rediscover his best form after a a seemingly endless catalogue of injuries, he now finds himself languishing in limbo without a club at 28 years of age.
Elsewhere we have seen the likes of David Bentley, Ravel Morrison, and Ross Barkley all flatter to deceive. Whilst most recently, and by far the most disappointing is the vanishing act of Dele Alli’s form for club and country in recent months.
Arriving from Mk Dons for a meagre £5 million pounds, here is another player who burst onto the scene with a hunger and youthful exuberance that made him such an explosive player to watch as his superb goals and assists ratio for Spurs propelled him into the starting line up for England.
For a time it seemed this gifted youngster had possessed something special as so many of his goals were dazzling and spectacular in nature, whilst his creativity in the centre of the park allowed him to establish a formidable connection with his club team mate and England captain Harry Kane.
However we have recently seen much of that early promise evaporate, as he has found himself dropped from England squads and can sadly now be found warming the bench at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, as it seems fame and fortune may well have blunted his appetite and enthusiasm to be a cornerstone of England’s potential future success.
For Grealish to prosper in his new found status it is absolutely crucial that he avoids these pitfalls if he is to deliver on the vast promise that is clearly there for all to see.
Too many times we have seen the embers of a new dawn extinguished by hyperbole and poor professional application by players in order for us to get carried away once again. Yet it is my hope that Grealish can buck this trend and continue to light up both the Premier League and the international stage with his mature and sophisticated performances.
Whatever the future holds in store for both player and country, Jack must look to carve out his own niche as a performer and if that draws comparisons with Gazza along the way then so be it.
It is now evident that he must knuckle down and focus on the future if he desires to be a success and with his new found fame the pressure on him to perform will be amplified. It will ultimately be the ability to handle this pressure which will determine his fate as a future great of the game, alas his destiny is entirely in his own talented hands and feet.
I would strongly suggest that without a shadow of a doubt Jack has all the qualities required to thrive as his own man, and I hope he utilises every facet of his make up in order to excel in the game, which will hopefully lead to Success for English Football.
Furthermore, I am also certain that there will never be another footballer quite like the marvel that was Paul John Gascoigne.
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