Jack Grealish is happy for the Paul Gascoigne comparisons to keep coming after he dazzled on his first England start on Thursday night.
The Aston Villa midfielder was the standout performer for the Three Lions in their 3-0 win over Wales at Wembley, grabbing an assist and looking the most creative player on the park.
The way he carries the ball and holds off robust challenges have seen people highlight the similarities between him and a prime Gascoigne.
Grealish is far too young to be able to remember Gazza, but ranks him as his favourite ever footballer.
“I know about Gazza,” he said. “I don’t really see myself as him but I would love to be like him, the way that he played football.
“He played with such… I don’t know what the right word is – but he played football with such joy. I think everyone who watched him could see that. That is what I want to do.
“One of the biggest compliments for people to say to you is that you make them happy watching football.
“My old coaches have said that to me. I have had a nice message from one of my old coaches already. For them, when they were coaching me at nine and 10, to see me starting for England was massive for them.
“It is massive for me and my family but I am proud for my old coaches.
“I would love to get compared to Gazza. I think he is an absolute icon. Him, along with Wayne Rooney, was probably one of the greatest England players over the last 30 years.
“There have been a load but if they were the top two, Gazza would be my first.”
Grealish has had to wait a long time to get his England chance but on the evidence shown against Wales he will be around the squad for some time.
It has not been a smooth journey for the 25-year-old, though, who was sent home from an England boys camp after collapsing and then went on to play for the Republic of Ireland at youth level.
But having finally made it to Gareth Southgate’s first team he is not about to let it slip.
“I can’t remember too much of it, I don’t know what went on,” he said of the incident as a teenager. “I was just a young lad, going to meet up with all the best players from England, around the country, and it was a big difference from what I was used to.
“When I got there, I woke up in the middle of the night, I went to go to the toilet and then my room-mate, who was Diego Poyet, Gus Poyet’s son, he heard a bang and then I just woke up in the bathroom.
“I had obviously collapsed. I didn’t want to go home the following day, but England said they thought it was best that I did.
“From then on, I went to play for Ireland through the youth levels and I played for them because of how much I enjoyed it, but as I got older I realised I am English, my family is English and in the future that’s what I want to do.
“I want to play for England and I’m just so grateful and thankful to the manager for making it happen.
“And I want to be in the squad now for the next, however long – five, six years – and I want to have a long England career and get many caps.”
Southgate described the Villa man as a “matador” with the ball but is worried about the kickings he takes from opposition defenders.
“Well, you know he is going to do it because he does it for his club and I have not seen him lose the ball too often in those sorts of situations,” he said.
“He’s a matador in those situations, isn’t he? The only thing that worries me occasionally is that when he does hang onto the ball he gets clobbered and you don’t want him to pick up injuries as the game is wearing on.
“I know he is the most fouled player in the league and he draws those fouls in but I was a bit worried he was going to get kicked and in a bit of trouble.
“No, in those deeper areas he is confident enough to play and you are not thinking he’s the type of player who is going to lose the ball in that situation.”
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