Whole England squad backs Southgate decision to stay, says Jack Grealish

Jack Grealish has claimed the entire England squad backed Gareth Southgate’s decision to continue as manager after the World Cup and believes it will reap rewards at the European Championship next summer.

England launch their qualifying campaign for Euro 2024 on Thursday with an awkward assignment against Italy, who beat Southgate’s team on penalties in the Euro 2020 final and whose last home defeat in the fixture came in a friendly in 1961.

It is England’s first outing since losing against France in the World Cup quarter-finals, when Southgate considered his future as manager before opting to see out a contract that runs until December 2024. Grealish was delighted with Southgate’s decision, and insists the feeling was shared throughout the England dressing room.

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The Manchester City midfielder said: “I was buzzing. Gareth called me up to my first squad, he gave me my debut and he has given me chances to play for my country. It’s the best thing that can happen to you as a player. Go and ask anyone in that changing room what they think of Gareth and they would all say the same: he is a brilliant manager and a brilliant person as well. I can’t speak highly enough of him for what he has done for me.”

Grealish believes continuity and a wealth of tournament experience under Southgate, allied to the development of England’s players, can form a potent combination in Germany next summer.

“We have come close so many times,” the 27-year-old said. “The last three tournaments have been a semi-final, a final and then the quarters. I think it is obvious what we want to do and I think we are getting better and better. Players are coming through and playing with so much confidence.

“I feel like the next one really could be our one. Everyone will be in their prime. I actually feel old at the moment but when I think about it, I will only be 28 at the Euros. It’s no secret that we all want to win a tournament – and I do think it is there to be done.”

England’s manager Gareth Southgate (left) oversees training
England’s manager Gareth Southgate (left) weighed up his options after the World Cup before extending his contract. Photograph: Paul Ellis/AFP/Getty Images

Grealish has been in excellent form for City recently and attributes his performances to improved confidence and fitness. The England international believes he is repaying the trust that Pep Guardiola has shown by starting him in City’s biggest matches.

“I feel I am in the best form since I moved to City,. I feel a bit like I did when I was at Aston Villa. I feel like one of the main players and it is the fittest I’ve been. That comes down to playing a lot of games on the bounce and playing in big games and making an impact, like scoring against Arsenal and United and getting assists at Chelsea away and Arsenal in the cup. I’m really confident at the moment. He [Guardiola] is trusting me in big games and I do feel I have repaid him, played my part, done well.”

Winning the Champions League with City and a major tournament with England are both on Grealish’s bucket list. He ticked another item off the list, albeit off the pitch, when heading to New York after England’s World Cup exit in December to indulge his fascination with the film Home Alone 2.

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The midfielder explained: “I even stayed in the same hotel [as Macaulay Culkin’s character]. You could get some mad room service, like 16 scoops of ice cream just like he got in the film. I’ve got an addictive kind of personality and I love that film. We did the tour around Central Park and I felt like a right little tourist. I was in the back of a [horsedrawn] carriage and every now and again someone would say: ‘I swear that’s Jack Grealish.’ I was saying to the driver: ‘Mate, speed up!’ I loved it. I’ve always wanted to go to New York around Christmas time but obviously because of football we’ve never been able to. It was like a little bucket-list moment.”

Grealish’s next destination is the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona in Naples where an intimidating venue, followed by Ukraine’s visit to Wembley on Sunday, offers a testing start to England’s qualifying campaign.

“Obviously we haven’t got the best record against Italy at the moment,” he said. “I’ve played against them three times I think and we haven’t beaten them. You could say these are going to be our two hardest qualifiers – Italy and Ukraine. It will be an interesting game and I’m sure it will be a lively atmosphere at an iconic stadium. I love playing in big stadiums and this is one I have wanted to play in, so I am looking forward to it if I do play.”