England manager Roy Hodgson believes Jack Grealish, the Aston Villa player who has six Under 21 caps for the Republic of Ireland, will make a final decision by this autumn over whether he wants to play for England or Ireland at senior level.
Grealish, who opted to make himself unavailable to Martin O’Neill for the forthcoming friendly international against England in Dublin on June 7, is said to be agonising over his answer; but Hodgson yesterday made it very clear he wants the 19-year-old on board as he announced his own squad for next month’s fixture.
England management staff, including Hodgson, have watched Grealish several times since he broke into the Aston Villa team under Tim Sherwood, helping his side pull clear of relegation trouble and earning rave reviews in the process. Now they are walking a nervous tightrope — wanting to encourage the player to switch allegiance but wary of asserting too much pressure.
“I think he should be allowed 100% to decide himself and we should not be telling him to change allegiance if that is not what he wants to do,” said Hodgson. ‘But he’s fully aware that if he wants to play for England, we’d be very happy to take him.
“I don’t think we’ve put a timescale on it but I would be surprised with the matter now in the open if he and his family don’t make a decision when we kick off in the autumn with a new round of international matches.
“I understand why he doesn’t want to make the decision this summer; he wants more time. But come the autumn, whoever gets him will be lucky because he is a good player.” England youth coaches Dan Ashworth, Gareth Southgate and Aidy Boothroyd have been in contact with Grealish, his family and advisers; but so far the midfielder, born in Solihull to English parents, has chosen to play international football for Ireland. He qualifies through a maternal grandfather from Dublin, a paternal grandfather from Galway and a paternal grandmother from Kerry.
Hodgson admits he has been watching the teenager, who joined Aston Villa aged just six, for a long time and has been impressed with his progress. He added: “He’s a very talented footballer. He can manipulate the ball in tight areas, he’s a very technically gifted player, who, like so many younger players, is able to play without fear. He seems to be a very confident, strong-minded individual. He’s showing the qualities that will make him a very good future international player.
“But I don’t want to put pressure on him to play for us if he wants to play for Ireland. He’s got the two opportunities, and he and his family have to decide. There will be an Irish connection in his family as well as an English one and it’s up to them to decide what they really want to do. And when they decide, whoever is the ‘loser’ in that — because he’s chosen one over the other — should respect that, wish him all the best and allow him to get on with it.”
Hodgson is aware of the huge complications of Grealish making such a big decision at such a vital stage in his career, and mindful too of the potential reaction of fans in Ireland. For that reason he insists he would not have selected the Villa player for next month’s friendly even if he had been available.
“I wouldn’t have done on this occasion because it would have been inflammatory if he had chosen us at the last minute and then we play Ireland,” he said. “Even I’m sensitive enough to move away from that one.” But amid all the platitudes and diplomatic tip-toeing, there was also a hidden warning for the teenager as Hodgson was challenged on why a player who continually turned down opportunities to play for England in the past should be given so many opportunities to change his mind. After all, hadn’t he insisted previously that only players who really wanted to play for England should be considered?
“I’m happy to reiterate that,” he responded. “If you don’t want to play or you have doubts, then don’t do it. We want people who want to be there. We are not doing them a favour by picking them, they are not doing us a favour by turning up.
“I have given my opinion that he is a very talented player and he has that potential. Now it is up to him.” England’s squad to face Ireland does not include Spurs striker Harry Kane, who has been selected for the Under 21s, but does feature three potential new caps in Leicester striker Jamie Vardy, QPR striker Charlie Austin and Burnley keeper Tom Heaton. Wayne Rooney and Danny Welbeck are injury doubts but hope to recover in time for the game.
England squad v Ireland June 7 and Slovenia on June 14:
Green (QPR), Hart (Man City), Heaton (Burnley); Bertrand (Southampton), Cahill (Chelsea), Clyne (Southampton), Gibbs (Arsenal), Jagielka (Everton), Jones (Man Utd), Smalling (Man Utd); Barkley (Everton), Delph (Aston Villa), Henderson (Liverpool), Lallana (Liverpool), Mason (Tottenham), Milner (Man City), Sterling (Liverpool), Townsend (Tottenham), Walcott (Arsenal), Wilshere (Arsenal); Charlie Austin (QPR), Rooney (Man Utd), Vardy (Leicester), Welbeck (Arsenal).
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