The message from England boss Gareth Southgate was clear; Tammy Abraham,Jadon Sancho and Ben Chilwell had fallen short of the standards he expects of his players.
Southgate also decided to publicly point out that the more recent additions to his squad don’t have the same “credit in the bank” as those that served him so well at the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
“They’ve got to prove themselves and they need to remember that it is an honour to play for England,” he told reporters.
In Southgate’s view, Abraham, Sancho and Chilwell needed to be reminded of what it means to represent one’s country – just like Phil Foden and Mason Greenwood before them.
The teenage duo made their international debuts against Iceland last month but were removed from the squad for the subsequent Nations League clash with Denmark after being found to have breached Covid-19 isolation protocols by bringing at least one guest to their hotel room in Reykjavik.
Consequently, five of England’s most promising young players were omitted from the squad to face Wales. Missing a friendly might not be considered the harshest of punishments but the fact that they were not missed should be of concern to Abraham, Sancho, Chilwell, Foden and Greenwood.
Indeed, a number of more recent arrivals excelled in their absences on a hugely encouraging night for the Three Lions at Wembley.
There was a debut goal for Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Conor Coady got off the mark in just his second England appearance, teenager Bukayo Saka quickly got to grips with Chilwell’s wing-back role after a nervy start, twice-capped Kalvin Phillips was an assured presence in midfield, while Jack Grealish was man of the match on his first start for his country.
It was Calvert-Lewin who broke the deadlock, with the Everton striker heading home a cross from Grealish. The 23-year-old now has 10 goals in just seven appearances for club and country so far this season.
Everton are top of the league, he’s top of the scorers’ charts and now on top of the world after netting his first goal for England.
“To do it on my debut, it’s the stuff of dreams,” Calvert-Lewin beamed in his post-match interview on ITV Sport. “I’ve worked very hard to get here. It’s felt like a long road but I’m very happy to be here and to get the opportunity.”
Southgate and his staff were only too happy to afford him that chance. Indeed, the coaching team were not only impressed with Calvert-Lewin’s ability to lead the line but also his positive attitude since joining up with the squad.
There is a feeling that, at 23, Calvert-Lewin– who is now a viable option to start alongside Harry Kane up front – fully appreciates the significance of playing for England and is only too happy to follow the code of conduct that Southgate demands.
The manager is also confident that the 25-year-old Grealish has also reached that point.
Southgate was long criticised for overlooking the talented attacker but there were concerns over the Birmingham native’s temperament, which only intensified after his own breach of Covid-19 regulations back in March.
Now seemingly fully matured, Grealish was entrusted with a starting spot against Wales and underlined his potential as a first-team regular with a virtuoso display.
Of course, the competition for places in England’s attack is intense. Sancho, Raheem Sterling, Marcus Rashford, Callum Hudson-Odoi and Mason Mount are all viable contenders for starting spots at next year’s European Championship.
However, Grealish, who has such a free role at Villa, couldn’t have done much more to dispel any doubts over his ability to adapt to tighter tactical restraints. Indeed, even Wales captain Ben Davies was impressed.
“I thought Jack Grealish was taking up excellent positions and really hurting us,” the left-back told reporters. “When you play a real quality team, then that quality shines through.”
Wales did what they could to stop Grealish – he was the most fouled player on the pitch – but he was irrepressible. As well as creating Calvert-Lewin’s goal, he also fashioned several other chances and wowed with his immaculate passing.
It’s now hard to imagine a future England squad without him. In a boost for fellow rule-breakers such as Foden and Greenwood, Grealish has shown that it is possible to get back into Southgate’s good books, and Sancho, Chilwell and Abraham could well feature in Sunday’s Nations League clash with Belgium.
However, in making the most of his chance to shine, Grealish also underlined the depth of the quality Southgate now has at his disposal.
“Whenever we give someone a chance, it’s the time for them to grab their place or push themselves up the pecking order,” the manager explained. “Several did that against Wales, so there is great competition for places now, and not just within the group but outside of it too.”
Source : goal.com