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Jack Grealish says “this is what I’ve wanted my whole life” as he prepares for his first major tournament with England at Euro 2020.
The Aston Villa midfielder, 25, played his way into contention this season and has won seven caps since making his England debut in September.
“My number one thing was to try to break my way into this squad,” he said.
“I had my debut at the start of season so to be here is a dream come true. I will cherish every moment.”
England boss Gareth Southgate refused a clamour to call Grealish up last season before finally including him for the first time at the start of 2020-21.
“He’s the manager of England so he’ll obviously be a brilliant coach,” said Grealish. “He’s helped my game massively. At the start of the season I said to him ‘what can I improve on?’.
“He gave me a few things to work on to try to force my way into the team. I think it’s worked as I’ve had seven games since.
“I love coming away [to the England camp]. I’ve heard people say years ago they didn’t really enjoy it. I think it’s down to the manager and he deserves credit for that. We’re like a group of mates playing together.”
England play their tournament opener on Sunday at 14:00 BST at Wembley against Croatia, the side who beat them in the 2018 World Cup semi-finals.
“I remember watching Russia in 2018. It was crazy how football brought the whole nation together. Even my nan who never watches football was watching every game,” he said.
“I remember Euro 2004 when Rooney burst onto the scene. It sticks in the memory. You grow up thinking about these things and dreaming of them.
“It’ll be unbelievable. My family are so excited already. It’ll be a great feeling for them to watch me at a major tournament. Hopefully I get on the pitch and express myself at some point and make them proud.”
Grealish was born and bred in Birmingham but played for the Republic of Ireland at Under-17, U18 and U21 level from 2011 to 2014 – eligible because of Irish grandparents.
He changed allegiance in 2015 and played for England Under-21s until he was too old.
“When I was younger, I was about 15, I got asked to play for England and Ireland at a tournament,” he said.
“I went away with England and I collapsed in my room the day before training. I got sent home. In that time I went to Ireland to trial there and I played.
“When you’re younger you do what makes you happy. I loved it. I was just a young kid enjoying my football. As I got older I started playing in the Villa first team. I’m English, my parents were born here. I feel English.
“I changed to England and I’ve never looked back. I wouldn’t be here today if I hadn’t.”