A former Three Lions boss has high hopes for the midfielder on the international stage, but can’t see him nailing down a place in the starting XI yet
Jack Grealish is a player in the mould of Paul Gascoigne but will struggle to dislodge the likes of Raheem Sterling from England’s starting line-up, says Steve McClaren.
Aston Villa attacking midfielder Grealish made his first England start against Wales on Thursday and put on a man-of-the-match display in the 3-0 Wembley win.
One particular highlight was a gorgeous assist for debutant Dominic Calvert-Lewin to open the scoring in the 26th minute, while his general play on the ball was a real asset to England.
Grealish has also been influential for a Villa side who have won three from three in the top flight this season, scoring with each of his three shots on target, while he became the first player to have a hand in five goals in a Premier League match when his side thrashed champions Liverpool 7-2.
But still, he has struggled to make the breakthrough on the international stage under Gareth Southgate and McClaren says the 25-year-old has to keep earning the trust of the manager as he offers the team something others in the squad do not.
“What a performance, he’s really matured. He’s the focal point of the Aston Villa team, he needs good players around him, and what Aston Villa have bought this season is good players,” the ex-England boss told Stats Perform News.
“You saw him link up with [Ross] Barkley at the weekend against Liverpool and play two exquisite passes which no one else could play and see and we haven’t got that type of midfield player, striker, creative player.
“We haven’t had it for a long time, that Gazza type, he is that type. Yes, he can frustrate at times, but he produces now, he’s got end product, he can score, he can assist and it showed in the goal that Dominic Calvert-Lewin scored.
“So, I think he was a major plus. He’s got to gain the trust of the manager that’s the most important thing, and if he does that he should be in the England team because with good players around him he becomes a better player.”
However, McClaren feels Grealish will have trouble nailing down a starting spot, particularly when Manchester City forward Sterling is fit again, due to Southgate’s preference for pace in attacking positions.
“Unfortunately, no [I don’t think he’ll be in the team],” he added. “Because when you play as you do, 3-4-3 or a 4-3-3, Gareth has gone for speed in the wide areas. He’s looking at [Jadon] Sancho, Sterling, at [Marcus] Rashford, [Mason] Greenwood – he’s looking at speed.
“Jack hasn’t got speed, he’s got dribbling ability, he can glide by players, he can see a pass, he doesn’t give it away, he can create, he can see things, so he’s a different type of player, a different type of wide player.
“Jack will be useful in terms of being on the bench and when you’re 1-0 down or we need to win a game, bring Jack on because he can cause defences havoc whether he plays eight, 10, 11 or seven.
“He’ll cause problems, so he’s a tremendous asset to have on the bench or in the squad. But there’s still a long way to go before Jack Grealish becomes a permanent England player, still a lot to do.”
McClaren was not surprised it took Grealish so long to earn a call-up to the national team, citing a lack of positional discipline during his formative years and the fact he is a “luxury player”.
He likened the situation to the one experienced with Joe Cole when assistant to Sven-Goran Eriksson.
“He was a luxury player and you can’t have luxury players, at Aston Villa you can’t have any luxury players,” McClaren said. “Sometimes it takes a while to mature and bring great discipline into your game, a lot of people talk about Gazza and the likes of Joe Cole and Joe Cole was exactly the same.
“We used to play Joe Cole out wide, and he’d say ‘why am I playing out wide?’ And we’d say ‘because Sven doesn’t trust you playing in the number 10 because when we lose the ball we need some discipline to that and some shape’.
“By default, he’s had the opportunity and the key with everything, in the relationship between the manager and the player, is trust and obviously trust takes a long time to build up.
“Especially in international football, you have to trust a player to do that job. Now he’s started the process.”