Why Gareth Southgate Souldn't Rule Out Jack Grealish - Or Any Other Championship Player For England
Comments from England boss Gareth Southgate about Jack Grealish would appear to be setting a dangerous precedent.
Grealish, who has caught the eye playing for Aston Villa this season, is apparently off the radar because Southgate is refusing to look at him until he proves himself in the Premier League.
There won't be too much fuss about Southgate's comments as long as his youthful, national side continues to impress and the memories of a World Cup semi-final appearances are relatively fresh. But there will come a time when a Championship player - whether it be Grealish or somebody we haven't even thought about yet - will force themselves into England contention. Maybe there will be a problem position for Southgate in the coming months and the outstanding candidate doesn't have to be playing in the top flight.
Southgate has not said explicitly that he won't pick a player from the lower leagues in England - but he more or less hinted at it in his most recent press conference.
It should be noted at this point that Southgate has picked Jack Butland from another Championship squad Stoke City, to be one of his goalkeepers.
Last season, there was a similar story at Wolves when Conor Coady was continually overlooked for international honours despite some fine form at club level. Coady made the jump to the top flight last summer yet despite being spoken about in glowing terms, remains on the outer on the international stage.
Grealish has played for England under 21s having switched allegiance from the Republic of Ireland four years ago. Playing at Villa may have stalled his progress but this shouldn't be trotted out as an excuse. The likes of Declan Rice and Callum Hudson-Odoi have all been given call-ups despite having nowhere near the level of first-team experience that Grealish has. It should also be remembered that Grealish has played for Villa in the Premier League so it's a leaky argument.
Whenever this debate is ignited, thoughts turn to the remarkable case of Steve Bull who was picked for England despite Wolves not being in the top flight. His goal-scoring exploits with Wolves were extraordinary, helping the club move up the leagues during the 1980s. When Bull first played for England, Wolves had just been promoted from the old third division and had yet to play a second division match.
Terry Butcher also represented England despite being in the second division with Ipswich Town while Kevin Keegan gave caps to both Kevin Phillips and Michael Bridge on the basis of their performances for first division Sunderland as they earned promotion to the top flight.
The Championship - as a product - continues to grow stronger and the standard of player will improve. Southgate simply can't turn a blind eye to the emerging talent in the lower leagues at the expense of players just because they are in a higher league.