Dean Smith backs Jack Grealish to force his way into England reckoning

Aston Villa manager Dean Smith is convinced Jack Grealish will eventually earn an England call-up after speaking with his captain “at length” about failing to so far make the squad.

After guiding Villa to play-off glory in May and promotion to the Premier League, Grealish has been Villa’s stand-out performer this season, but remains overlooked by England manager Gareth Southgate.

With Grealish to return to the Villa fold on Monday for the visit of Newcastle after a month out with a calf injury, Smith said: “The fact he has not been called up, he can’t control that.

“We’ve spoken about that at length. All he can control is to keep performing and keep putting pressure on those who make those decisions.

“We’ve had three international periods now (this season) and each time there has been speculation about him getting in there and he hasn’t, so the message has been ‘Just keep playing’.

“You saw in October he was nominated for Player of the Month, such was his form, so all he can do is maintain that. If he does, then he will make the people who make the decisions eventually pick him.”

Grealish’s importance to Villa is highlighted by the fact that when he plays the team averages around two points per game. When he is absent, that drops to one point per game.

Smith added: “He’s a top player. I stand with (assistant head coach) John Terry sometimes and we go ‘Wow!’ at some of the things he does.

“When top players are playing you have a better chance of winning, when they don’t, you’ve less chance. It’s the same with any top player at any club.”

Smith believes Grealish’s influence has been missed in the last two matches – a 2-1 home defeat to Liverpool in which Villa led until the 87th minute, and another 2-1 loss at Wolves in which there was no spark throughout the team.

“Against Liverpool we lost his ball retention,” assessed Smith.

“I have no doubt that had he been on that pitch, being 1-0 up with 10 minutes to go, he’d have bought some fouls and he would have retained the ball in the top-half for us. He didn’t and we ended up losing the game.

“Wolves? Listen, if he’d have played like the others we wouldn’t have got nothing out of it. But he’s a top player, bringing goals to his game as well as assists now, and that’s all he can keep doing.”

Smith also feels the 24-year-old’s forthright views have endeared him to the players and proven why he is a leader.

“He knows the football club, but he’s not shy with his opinions as well,” said Smith. “That is what I welcome from the players, to talk. I’m very inclusive with the players, in the debriefs we have and analysis.

“The vocal side off the pitch, it’s something Jack’s brought into his game a lot more. On the pitch he’s not so vocal, but he’s a leader by example.

“He’ll take the ball, even if he’s having a bad game. There’s bravery in that and, sometimes, that can get other players driven as well.”

Alongside Grealish, goalkeeper Tom Heaton and defenders Matt Targett and Bjorn Engels should all be available.

Heaton and Engels missed the defeat to Wolves with calf and hip injuries respectively, while Targett has recovered from concussion sustained in the game at Molineux.

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