Could These 5 Villans Star for England at the 2022 World Cup?

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It’s been a miserable few years as a Villa fan, but finally hope has been restored to the club.

The vastly experienced foundation provided by Steve Bruce, John Terry, Robert Snodgrass, Alan Hutton and Glenn Whelan has provided a solid platform for youth to flourish at Villa Park this season. And despite the club’s slow start to the season, the Villans are now on course for an exciting promotion push and – hopefully – a Premier League return at the end of the campaign.

It seems a million years ago that Martin O’Neill led us to three consecutive sixth-placed Premier League finishes, with a strong core of English players: Gareth Barry, Ashley Young, James Milner and Darren Bent.

Since O’Neill’s departure, England internationals at Villa Park have been few and far between. But with an exciting crop of youngsters now bursting into the team, could we be set to see a new “golden generation”? Admittedly, this summer’s World Cup in Russia has come too early for them, but Qatar 2022 can certainly be in their sights.

So just who are the young Villans who could make their mark not just in claret and blue, but also with Three Lions on the shirt?

Sam Johnstone

Although currently only on loan from Manchester United, Sam Johnstone has been a key component of Steve Bruce’s rebuilding job at Villa Park.

Still just 24, his loan at Villa represents the seventh such move of his short career, and with his contract at United set to expire in the summer, it’s possible he’ll make a permanent move – although United do also have the option of an extra year. But if he does move on, will that be to Villa? Well, one would hope. But Johnstone certainly isn’t short of admirers. However, a successful 18-month loan to the Midlands – and ideally one ending in promotion to the Premier League – may well see him seal a permanent deal at Villa Park as he looks to establish himself as a number one goalkeeper in the top flight.

Johnstone has appeared for England at under 16, 17, 19 and 20 levels, but never appeared for the under 21s. But if his trajectory is to continue, you’d surely expect him to feature for the senior side at some point – although his path to a starting place will surely be hindered by Jack Butland and Jordan Pickford – both of whom have thrived in the Premier League in the past few seasons and are the same age as the Preston-born shot stopper.

Nevertheless, the future looks bright for Johnstone, and it’s certainly not beyond the realms of possibility that there could soon be a three-way chase for the England number one shirt at some point – maybe even at Qatar 2022.

Jack Grealish

It’s a rarity that a serious injury can be the making – rather than the breaking – of a player, but that seems to be the case with 22-year-old, Jack Grealish.

After tearing apart Liverpool in an FA Cup semi-final at the tender age of 19 in 2015, the Solihull-born youngster seemed to have the world at his feet, with England and Ireland battling it out for his international allegiance.

But then it all stalled. There was that photo in Tenerife, and a serious number of other misdemeanours which seemed to indicate that for all his ability, his head wasn’t in the right place. The next Ravel Morrison rather than a Frank Lampard or Paul Scholes. And that seemed to still be the case even after Villa’s relegation to the Championship, with disciplinary problems continuing to blight the youngster last season.

However, something seems to have clicked with Grealish this season, and the defining moment seems to have occurred in a pre-season fixture against Watford, when a collision with former Villan, Tom Cleverley, left Grealish with a severely damaged kidney that saw him in hospital for 10 days.

The little weight he had fell off Grealish following the injury, meaning he had a lot of work to get back to where he was physically. But not only has he managed that, but he has obliterated that target with a vastly improved physique on show in November.

Most importantly, though, is the impact Grealish is now having on matches – none more so than the 2-0 victory over Birmingham at Villa Park at the start of February. It could well be a defining moment in the battle for promotion, and one that could be the same for Grealish’s career and fulfilment of potential.

It’s been said that a blossoming friendship with former England captain, John Terry, has played a big part in the focussing of Grealish’s mind – which in itself could show why signing the veteran centre-half was such a great piece of business in the summer.

Of course, there’s still a long way to go. But if the 22-year-old can continue to play a significant role in Villa’s promotion charge, and then back in the Premier League – the sky’s the limit for him. Could he make the England World Cup squad in 2022? Or could even be shock inclusion in this summer’s squad? It seems unlikely, especially with the likes of Jack Wilshere having only just become odds-on – according to Oddschecker – to make Gareth Southgate’s final 23.

It would be an almighty surprise to see a player who has been plying his trade in the Championship for the past two years scooting off to Russia, but if he can keep his head down, there’s no reason he can’t go to Qatar in 2022. But first, he needs to continue keeping his head down at Villa and show that he really does have what it takes to be one of the nation’s next star players.

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Andre Green

After making his debut as a 17-year-old in the Premier League, Andre Green has struggled to get a foothold in the Villa team since, largely due to an unfortunate series of injuries.

Indeed, the wide man started the season as first choice under Bruce, but successive serious hamstring injuries – which have required surgery – have curtailed his involvement since. He was even on the verge of returning to the senior side after getting some minutes under his belt for the under-23s in January, before succumbing to another hamstring problem as his first team return dawned.

But, if Green is to overcome his injury woes, there’s surely a bright career in the game waiting for him – even if a loan move may be in order to ensure he gets enough game time to continue his development.

Obviously the big concern with a player like Green who has endured so many injury problems at such a young age, is that he falls by the way side and doesn’t fulfil his potential. I think we all have fingers crossed that this hamstring trouble is just a blip rather that the norm for Green.

But with pace to burn and a vast range of technical ability, it would be a shame not to see a lot more of Andre Davis in the coming years. And if he can stay fit and perform to his best, there’s no doubt he’ll find a way into the Villa starting line-up. Add in a promotion and a decent bit of form, Andre Davis could well get an England call up in the coming years – possibly even for Qatar…

Keinan Davis

Keinan Davis has enjoyed a Jamie Vardy-esque rise through the footballing pyramid to find himself at Villa. Admittedly, his rise came at a much younger age than the 2016 Premier League winner, but it is nonetheless eye-catching.

The bulldozing centre-forward – who it’s hard to believe is just 20 given his stature – was released by Stevenage before Biggleswade FC, in the Midlands League, picked him up as a teenager. A friendly match between Biggleswade under 18’s and a Villa youth side earn him a trial, before promptly being offered an 18-month contract at Villa Park. And boy has he snapped up his big opportunity.

His career may have lacked an academy upbringing, but Davis is flourishing at Villa Park, where he is regularly used as an impact substitute, with regular starting stints to boot. His performances have seen him rewarded with England caps at under-20 level, and a new contract at Villa until 2020.

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Given how much progress Davis has already made in such a short-time in professional surroundings, it shouldn’t be disregarded as to how much more the powerful striker will continue to make – especially considering his tender years.

Should Villa go up, it will be interesting to see whether Steve Bruce will continue to use Davis so frequently in the top flight. Indeed, his goals tally has been far from impressive – with just two strikes against Burton and Barnsley in the first half of the season – but it is all-round play that has caught the eye most, with his hold-up play in particular outstanding.

Although often derided throughout his career, a comparison to Emile Heskey is not too far off the money when looking at Keinan Davis. The former Villa man was never a frequent goalscorer, but his hold-up play and general teamplay was often excellent – and there are certainly parallels in that respect with Davis. Plus, let’s not forget, Heskey earned 62 caps for the Three Lions, forming a formidable partnership with Michael Owen. Should Davis also add goals to his game, though, and he could be on a whole different level.

Josh Onomah

Last, but certainly not least of the Villa prospects on-loan attacking midfielder, Josh Onomah.

After making no less than 32 appearances as a teenager for Spurs in the previous three seasons, Mauricio Pochettino opted to let the 20-year-old playmaker out on loan this season, with first team opportunities unlikely to be forthcoming with the likes of Dele Alli, Harry Winks, Christian Eriksen and Mo Sissoko standing in his way in North London.

Despite that fact, there were strong rumours that Onomah was set to be recalled to Spurs in January, although that didn’t transpire in the end. Further fuel was added to the recall fire, with Spurs apparently not so happy that Steve Bruce has been playing Onomah in a variety of positions – but not so much in his favoured central midfield role – where Spurs are keen for him to get experience.

Nevertheless, game time at Villa Park has been forthcoming for Josh Onomah at Villa Park, although a good portion of this has come from the bench. But this could certainly prove to be a vast learning curve for the youngster, who has his sights set on a push for a starting place at Tottenham next season. Of course, Spurs are famous for giving youth a chance – just look at Harry Kane, Dele Alli and Harry Winks currently thriving in their setup – so it’s certainly not unthinkable to see him do so. And if he is to achieve that target, an England call-up surely won’t be far behind.

Onomah has earned England caps from ages groups 16 to 21, and is one of the brightest midfield prospects in the England ranks currently. It seems unlikely that he’ll stay at Villa Park beyond the current campaign, but the loan move has certainly proven beneficial to all parties involved.

It will certainly be interesting to see which of these players go on to make it at the top level. So often we look at a young prospect and presume he will make it – but this is often not the case, and can look quite bizarre in retrospect. Maybe one or two of these players will indeed head to the 2022 World Cup in Qatar with England (assuming England themselves qualify), but then again, maybe there’ll be another group of youngsters tickling our imaginations with their potential by then. In the meantime, let’s just ponder over what Grealish and co may actually achieve in the game.

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