England Under-21s new boys settle into squad in training at SGP

Tuesday 17 May 2016
Jack Grealish

Gareth Southgate welcomed three new faces into his England Under-21s squad on Monday, as they prepare for the Toulon Tournament.

Aston Villa’s Jack Grealish, Chelsea’s Kasey Palmer and Bolton Wanderers defender Rob Holding all arrived at St. George’s Park to link up with Southgate’s squad for the first time.

And they joined their new squad mates for a training session in the evening sunshine before they head out to France for the competition ahead of Thursday’s opening game with Portugal.

"It’s always a nice moment for them to be integrated into the group, as you can meet your new team-mates off the field and sit around and have a chat but actually the best bonding part is when you start to train with each other and get a feel for each other," said Southgate.

"It’s good for us to have an insight into Rob, Jack and Kasey, and I think they’ll understand now that the ball moves quickly in this group with the quality that we’ve got but they’ll all adapt to that no problem."

With a number of players unavailable due to end-of-season club commitments, Southgate has a chance to assess his options, with the U21 Euro Qualifying campaign set to resume in September. 

And that means there are opportunities for each of the new players to stake their claim for a more regular spot in the head coach’s squad.

"Rob has been Bolton’s player of the year and has had a really good season," added Southgate in relation to Holding, who was drafted in as a replacement for the injured Brendan Galloway.

Rob Holding during his first training session with England Under-21s at St. George

Bolton's Rob Holding during his first training session with England Under-21s at St. George's Park

"He’s a defender who can use the ball, which is the way that we want to play and it’s a first taste for him of international football.

"Rob was very much a player I wanted to look at, so whilst it’s a disappointment for Brendan that he’s not able to come, it’s a great opportunity from Rob and I think he can settle into it with no problem.

"From what I’ve seen, the way he plays, he has stood out in a difficult season for his club and has some good leadership qualities on the field.

"And Kasey has had a super season with his club where he has been instrumental in them winning the youth Champions League and has scored a lot of goals at that level and U21 level to force his way into the first team squad over the last couple of months."

Grealish’s inclusion is a slightly longer story, with the player having previously represented Republic of Ireland at U17 and U21 level before declaring his allegiance to the Three Lions earlier in the season.

And Southgate is looking forward to seeing the Solihull-born playmaker in action once he’s fully settled into the group over the next two weeks.

Kasey Palmer shares a joke with his England Under-21s team-mates in training

Kasey Palmer enjoys his first England Under-21s training session on Monday

"Jack was with us at younger age groups and it’s been a difficult year for him with his club but it’s a great opportunity for him to focus on the next stage and what the next few years going to look like," explained Southgate, who also represented Villa during his playing days.

"He transferred across [from Ireland] in October and was injured in March, so this is the first time he’s had the chance to train with us.

"He knows there’s a lot of competition for places in the area of the pitch where he plays, so like all of the players that have come in, there is an opportunity there for him.

"There’s ability there and we’ve got to create an environment for him to go and play and enjoy his football.

"We’re looking forward to working with him and he’s really excited to be here."

The squad will head out to southern France on Tuesday afternoon, where they will face Portugal (19 May), Guinea (23 May), Paraguay (25 May) and Japan (27 May).

By Nicholas Veevers at St. George's Park