Jack Grealish will be part of the England squad that faces Denmark on Wednesday looking to make history, but the Aston Villa star’s international career could have panned out far differently were it not for Roy Hodgson.
The Three Lions have never reached the final of a European Championship, but Gareth Southgate’s side are in glittering form ahead of their Wembley semi against the Danes.
Grealish—who has Irish grandparents—was consistently ahead of his time in representing the Republic of Ireland’s youth teams, rejecting England’s approaches on several occasions growing up.
But The Athletic has revealed how a 2015 meeting with then-England manager Roy Hodgson influenced his decision to switch allegiances and represent the country of his birth instead.
Grealish was only 18 when he made his debut for the Republic of Ireland’s under-21s in August 2013, and it was those chances with higher age groups that played a big hand in keeping his loyalties.
It was a couple of years later that the playmaker decided to take a break from the international game to ‘gather his thoughts’, and it was then that Hodgson made his play.
The Three Lions chief had set up a one-on-one meeting with Grealish shortly after Villa had lost 1-0 at home to Manchester United.
His Republic of Ireland counterpart at the time, Martin O’Neill, had set up a similar brief alongside Grealish’s father and his agent, David Manasseh, but Hodgson demanded a more private affair.
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“I’m the England manager,” Hodgson said.
“Agents speak to club directors and maybe even club managers but, as England manager, I don’t speak to agents. I’m more than happy to speak to the boy, I’m more than happy to speak to his manager and more than happy to speak to his parents.
“But I don’t go to meetings where an agent sits there and tells me. Maybe the FA will have to, if the boy insists his agent is there, but I’m not prepared to do that.”
The overriding message was that the Football Association had long kept tabs on his progress, and while a place in the squad wasn’t guaranteed, England wanted him to be theirs.
The conversation appeared to have the desired effect as Grealish confirmed his intention to play for England in September 2015.
It was another five years before the Villa talisman finally made his senior international debut under Southgate, but it would be fair to suggest the patience has paid off overall.
Despite starting in only one of England’s five Euro 2020 outings thus far, Grealish has played instrumental roles when called upon, coming up with key moments en route to the semis.
The 25-year-old—who earned his 10th cap in the recent 4-0 rout of Ukraine—was crucial to both of England’s goals during their 2-0 round-of-16 win over Germany, while he also assisted Raheem Sterling for a 1-0 decider against the Czech Republic.
He’s joined in the Three Lions squad by another Irish convert, West Ham’s Declan Rice, who actually made three friendly appearances for their senior side before also switching to England.
The duo may well feel justified in their decisions to move already, although progress to a Euro 2020 final against either Italy or Spain would serve as further validation.
And although Southgate may be the manager receiving the plaudits today, it was a subtle gesture from one of his predecessors that may go on to have a major impact on England’s success.
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