Jack Grealish can cope with the increased expectations following a strong start to his England career, though Gareth Southgate has emphasised success will only be achieved as a team.
Aston Villa playmaker Grealish, 25, made his full England debut in a 3-0 victory over Wales in October – setting up the opening goal for Dominic Calvert-Lewin – but was not used by Southgate for the subsequent Nations League fixtures.
He set up Jadon Sancho in a 3-0 win over the Republic of Ireland last week and was bright in a 2-0 loss to Belgium on Sunday, attempting more passes in the opposition half than any player on the pitch and drawing a game-high seven fouls.
That result ended England’s hopes of reaching the last four of the Nations League and there have consequently been calls for Southgate to begin building his team around Grealish, who has been involved in 12 goals in as many appearances for club and country this season.
Asked whether it was important to manage the expectations on Grealish ahead of Wednesday’s meeting with Iceland, Southgate told a news conference: “I think that’s always important with any player, we are going to succeed or fail as a team. It’s for everybody to contribute.
“We’ve tried to ensure over the past four year that it’s collective expectation, we could put pressure on Harry Kane, Raheem [Sterling], other players, and it needs to be the same with Jack.
“He’s had a super start to his international career. I think he’ll be able to handle the attention because he thrives under that pressure. He’s got great courage with the ball, so I don’t think that’ll faze him. Equally, it’s going to be the squad that brings us success as a collective.”
7 – Jack Grealish was fouled seven times against Belgium tonight; the most by an England player in a game since Harry Kane against Colombia at the 2018 World Cup (9). Spark. pic.twitter.com/PTdb2sUPRA
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) November 15, 2020
Another player in the embryonic stages of their international career is 17-year-old Borussia Dortmund midfielder Jude Bellingham.
When told Bellingham wears the number 22 because he was challenged to be capable of playing as a number four, eight and 10 at former club Birmingham City, Southgate said it is important not to try to categorise the teenager as a specialist in any one position yet.
“Well, I think he could end up playing any of those roles. At Dortmund he’s playing as one of two fours or as an eight, and most of the time at Birmingham he was kind of in the position of an eight really,” said Southgate.
“But he’s so young, you don’t have to specialise yet. [With] a lot of midfield players, it’s more important he learns the game, he gets brilliant experiences playing in whatever positions might be his strongest and as time develops it’ll probably become apparent which is his more suited position.
“But he is a midfield player who can pass, tackle, break forward and score goals, so he can do any of those jobs and I never think with young players we should rush to pigeonhole them into one, we should wait to see how he develops. And, at the moment, he’s developing really well.”
There has been a focus on the performances of Marcus Rashford following his charity work to help reduce food poverty among children in the United Kingdom. This week he also launched a book club for kids.
Amid criticism from certain parts of the media and suggestions he should focus on football, Southgate has been left baffled by the treatment of the Manchester United forward.
Ok, so let’s address this. I’m 23. I came from little. I need to protect not just my future but my family’s too. To do that I made a decision at the beg of 2020 to start investing more in property. Please don’t run stories like this alongside refs to ‘campaigning’. pic.twitter.com/coqla2i19d
— Marcus Rashford MBE (@MarcusRashford) November 15, 2020
“I don’t really understand those comments. The days where the players just focused on their football and did nothing else are in the far distant past,” he said.
“Modern players recognise they have an opportunity to make a difference, whether that’s in their local community or on a broader scale, they have a voice and a social media presence.
“You know as a sportsman you’re going to have a second career when you finish football, that’s the reality, so I don’t know why they would limit themselves to just one thing.
“Of course, it’s important your training and focus on games isn’t affected, but it’s possible to achieve that balance.”
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