Jack Grealish was always destined for the top, according to his former PE teacher.
Tom Seickell knew the Aston Villa captain would be a star after watching him grow as a young player.
He has now helped England make history after they beat Denmark on Wednesday to reach the Euro 2020 final against Italy.
The 25-year-old replaced Bukayo Saka in the 69th minute at Wembley on Wednesday before being withdrawn himself for Kieran Tripper at half time of extra time as the Three Lions clinched a 2-1 semi-final win.
Grealish was a pupil at St Peter’s Catholic School in Solihull and it was clear from when he started in 2007 a stellar career beckoned.
Seickell said: “He caused that kind of buzz we don’t often see. With that freedom of expression which he has – and Phil Foden has as well – he is probably the closest thing since Gazza was gracing our pitches.
“Even when he was at school there was limited amount of coaching we could do with Jack. Having been at Villa since he was six he was already showing so much talent.
“You put him in a PE lesson or training after school, you are focusing on the kids who are going to benefit from the coaching.
“It was just about keeping him level-headed and hoping he would do the business when playing for the school, which he did.
“He is a free spirit and Jack has always done what he wanted to do. If you try to condition him into playing in a certain way I don’t think you’ll get the best out of him.”
Grealish has made four appearances at Euro 2020, bagging two assists, having excelled for Villa last season.
Seickell has been at St Peter’s since 1989 and counts former England international Karen Carney and current British tennis men’s number one Dan Evans as his former pupils but Grealish always stood out.
“He came through our gates as a Year 7 student in 2007, we had already heard then we were getting someone who was a highly-talented footballer, who was at Villa and highly regarded,” said the 55-year-old.
“We knew we were getting someone special and that became apparent early.
“Even then he would draw so many fouls because he was so much quicker with his feet than others. He would suck them in and knock the ball past. He used to take so many tackles.
“I remember we played a Year 7 cup final at Wast Hills (Birmingham’s training ground) and he was kicked black and blue but would just pick himself up. He never moaned and complained. He would just get on with it and never shied away from it.
“When he was in his final year in Year 10 we got to the final of the Birmingham Schools Cup which was played at Villa Park – it was the first time he had played there and he did it with a St Peter’s shirt on which is our little claim to fame.”
Seickell also revealed the midfielder also had another talent when he was young.
He said: “Jack was an outstanding Gaelic footballer as well. We have a strong Gaelic tradition being a Catholic school and we have a lot of good Gaelic players.
“When he came to us he had been playing Gaelic football as a young lad. He’d play in tournaments and was natural with the ball at his feet and very graceful but it got to the stage where his football was taking a priority.”