Stewart Downing has called on England boss, and former team-mate and manager Gareth Southgate, to select Jack Grealish and Phil Foden for England’s Euro 2020 opener against Croatia on Sunday.

Grealish starred in England’s warm-up matches against Austria and Romania, having a hand in the winning goals in the 1-0 victories, and in the process became the first Aston Villa player since Downing to provide an assist for the national team.

The 25-year-old’s fitness is being managed closely, but Downing, who won 35 caps for his country and played with Southgate for five years at Middlesbrough believes the tournament has come at the perfect time for Grealish to shine.

The big question mark will be how Southgate can fit in his young attacking players into a system, with Grealish competing alongside Mason Mount and Phil Foden, as well as the more established options in Marcus Rashford and Raheem Sterling, for the roles behind captain Harry Kane.

Downing accepts the selection will come down to the system Southgate prefers, and could be impacted by the opposition, but he told Sky Sports he feels Grealish has a key role to play, alongside that of Foden.

He said: “It depends what system Gareth plays, does he play him in the centre of a three, off the left, it’s going to be really difficult for Gareth to pick the team.

“He might do it to suit the team we play, if the first game he doesn’t see him fitting in, he might use him in the other games, but for me you have to fit him in somewhere.

“I think he’s a really top player and his performances have merited a start.

“Gareth has got a lot of difficult decisions to make but I just think he brings that something different, he’s a ball carrier, he makes something happen, and we saw that at the weekend.

“He’s a really good player and I think the tournament is set up for him to have a good one.”

Downing believes a place for Grealish shouldn’t come at the expense of Foden, but alongside him, the Manchester City youngster having just come off an impressive season that saw him named as the Premier League young player of the year.

“He has to start, him and Grealish,” Downing added.

“They’re different players, they’re ball carriers, they can get us into different areas, we have other lads who can do the work behind the ball defensively.

“I just think ‘give these two lads the ball and let them do some damage on the opposition’.

“Gareth won’t be afraid to make decisions, I have played under Gareth at Middlesbrough and he won’t be afraid to make those calls.

“It’s a tournament, and he’ll see different personnel for different games, and it’ll be interesting to see what team is picked for the opening game against Croatia and there will be some surprise on who is left out because we all have different opinions on who should start.”

Downing, who turns 37 next month, is expected to hang up his boots after his release by Rovers, but is yet to announce his retirement. He spent two years at Ewood Park, but despite featuring regularly in 2019/20, he managed just 19 appearances in the season just passed.

The possibility of a coaching role has been discussed, including at Rovers, with Downing having worked closely with the Under-23s for the final two matches of their Premier League 2 season.

He is currently working on his coaching badges and is keen to stay in the game even if he does opt to stop playing.

“The likelihood is I’ll probably retire,” he said last month.

“You’ve got to get enjoyment from football and if you’re not playing, that’s a big thing for me.

“If that’s the way it’s going to be going forward, I’ll look at something new and call it a day because it’s about playing and being involved on the Saturday after training all week.”