Gareth Southgate believes any manager of a top team must be prepared to make big calls as he will with Jack Grealish, citing former England coach Sven-Goran Eriksson’s difficulty choosing between Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard.
Heading into a Nations League double-header against Belgium and Iceland, pressure is building on Southgate to name Aston Villa captain Grealish in his XI.
The 25-year-old switched allegiance from the Republic of Ireland to England in 2015 but did not make his senior Three Lions debut until September this year.
Even after breaking into Southgate’s squad, Grealish – who has four goals and five assists in the Premier League this season – has struggled to hold down a place in the line-up.
Grealish’s bow came from the bench in the goalless Nations League draw against Denmark, while his only two subsequent appearances have been in friendlies, starting in 3-0 wins over both Wales and Ireland.
The midfielder had a team-high two assists across those matches, while only Mason Mount (four) created more chances than his three, one of which was classed as a big chance.
It seems far from certain Grealish will get another opportunity from the outset in Belgium on Sunday, yet Southgate welcomed the challenges that come with a deep squad.
The England manager pointed to Eriksson’s time at the helm when he had an array of options – most notably the midfield pair of Gerrard and Lampard, who were said to be too alike to play together.
“If you want to be manager of any big football club or national team, you’ve got to make decisions that you believe are the right ones for the team, for the whole group for the right reasons depending on the opponent,” Southgate told reporters.
Good to be back! pic.twitter.com/EDhSJzM0Lj
— Jack Grealish (@JackGrealish) November 11, 2020
“That’s part of life at the top. If you don’t want that, go and work somewhere else, frankly.
“We’re blessed; we’ve got some very good players. But I’m imagining when Sven had to pick from [David] Beckham, [Paul] Scholes, Gerrard, Lampard, [Michael] Carrick, that was a pretty difficult choice as well.
“You had Champions League winners in every position, [Wayne] Rooney, [Michael] Owen, European Footballer of the Year at the time.
“All big managers or all managers of big teams have to make those decisions and you’ve got to be strong, you’ve got to make them for the right reasons.
“We need a strong squad. In tomorrow’s game, we’ll need more than 11 – and we’ve got another game on Wednesday. We need to win them both to be able to win the group.”
England beat Belgium in the sides’ previous meeting at Wembley, but a subsequent home defeat to Denmark means the Three Lions must win this weekend to reclaim top spot in their group.
Southgate hopes the tide is turning for his side against elite opposition, acknowledging they have struggled previously against the world’s best – including in a run to the World Cup semi-finals.
“If you look at history, we haven’t been a country that have beaten the big teams,” he said. “That’s the great challenge for us. There’s been very few wins against big nations in tournaments – that’s a fact.
“Even in qualifying, I can go back; ’98 in qualifying, Italy beat us at Wembley, Gianfranco Zola, and we got a draw in Rome to get us through.
— England (@England) November 14, 2020
“The perception that we’ve been an outstanding nation doesn’t tally with the results over the years. That’s a great opportunity for this team.
“In the last few months before the World Cup, I think we lost in France, lost in Germany, draws with Belgium and Germany at Wembley. We weren’t able to nail the big teams.
“Since the World Cup, we had the win in Spain, the draw and the win against Croatia, and the win against Belgium now. We’re starting to build those results.
“To be a really top team, you’ve got to do that consistently, and that’s the great challenge for us. It’s not an easy one – there’s some fantastic teams out there – but it’s not one we’re fearful of.”
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