Jack Grealish wants to go from cult hero to England legend as the Aston Villa playmaker eyes a leading role in Tuesday’s Euro 2020 last 16 clash with Germany.
Grealish gave a tantalising glimpse of his ability in his first start of the tournament against the Czech Republic last week.
The 25-year-old’s nimble footwork and perfectly-flighted cross opened up the Czech defence, with Raheem Sterling the beneficiary as he headed the goal that sealed England’s 1-0 win.
It was the kind of influential moment that underlined why Grealish has such vocal backing from England fans urging Gareth Southgate to pick him more often.
With a reputation as a head-strong character off the pitch, Grealish struggled to earn Southgate’s trust until the final months before the Euro.
He eventually forced his way into the squad but had to wait for his maiden tournament start after making one substitute appearance against Scotland in England’s first two group matches.
With Phil Foden rested and Mason Mount in self-isolation, Grealish was promoted to the starting line-up against the Czechs and delivered a superb first-half display.
He faded in the second half as England went into their shell to protect the lead and Southgate has to decide whether to keep faith with Grealish or restore Mount and Foden to the team.
Befitting his confident personality, Grealish has no doubts he would prove his worth if he starts against Germany at Wembley.
Name-checking England icons Paul Gascoigne and Wayne Rooney, Grealish has his sights set high as he prepares for a potentially career-defining moment.
“I’ve spoken about how big these tournaments are in people’s careers. You think back and look at Gazza at Italia ’90, where he was well known before but everyone remembers that tournament,” Grealish said.
“You look at Wayne Rooney at Euro 2004 when he set his marker to be one of the best in the world.
“I’ve got a bit to follow in their footsteps but hopefully I can do that if I get more chances in the tournament.”
– ‘Make a name for yourself’ –
Grealish’s desire to tease and torment defenders with his clever flicks and deft passes mark him out as something different to the other options available to Southgate.
That crowd-pleasing quality makes him the darling of Villa’s Holte End and an English icon in waiting.
Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola is convinced of Grealish’s class and is reportedly ready to pay Â£100 million ($138 million) to sign the midfielder for the Premier League champions.
Yet to make his Champions League debut, the European Championship is Grealish’s biggest stage in a career that featured a spell in the Championship with Villa just three seasons ago.
“You all know how much confidence I have in myself to be able to perform and I felt I did that with my assist (against the Czechs),” Grealish said.
“It’s obviously different to what I’ve been used to. I’ve never played in Europe before, I’ve never played in the Europa League or Champions League so it’s obviously different to what I’m used to.
“But it’s a new challenge, it’s something that I’m really enjoying, I love it. It is a matter of showcasing my talent to the world and it is what I want.”
Now all Grealish has to do is convince Southgate to give him the platform to shine against Germany.
“I just love playing football every day of my life and when I go out there, there is no pressure on me whatsoever,” Grealish said.
“This is what I was born to do. I can’t wait. These are the games you dream of being involved in.
“For all of us it is a game where you really do make a name for yourself and if I am involved it will be a dream come true.”