Sad Gareth Southgate ponders Jack Grealish pick puzzle | England

Gareth Southgate is in the midst of a sympathetic response to Jack Grealish’s first season at Manchester City as he pauses, smiles and reflects on the irony of people questioning why the winger is in England’s squad for the League of Nations qualifiers. next month. “It’s interesting that last summer I spent the whole summer because I didn’t pick him,” Southgate says. “Now they tell me I shouldn’t pick him. But that is my world. ”

Such is life for the England a manager who realized some time ago that it is useless to try to please everyone. Southgate can’t care about outsiders criticizing him for continuing to overlook Leicester’s James Maddison, who finished last season with 18 goals and 12 assists, and it’s easy to understand the manager’s amusement at Grealish’s doubts as most England supporters regarded him as obligatory. beginner at Euro 2020.

Football is moving fast. Twelve months ago, it was Southgate’s refusal to trust Grealish, which started once during England’s run to the Euros final. It is now a question of whether the 26-year-old deserves a place in the squad after struggling to find his feet at City after his £ 100 million move from Aston Villa.

It was not easy for Grealish to adapt to Pep Guardiola’s style. He finished the campaign with six goals and four assists in all competitions and did not start many of City’s biggest games. It sometimes felt bad. Grealish was the main man at Aston Villa, the undisputed star, but at City he is just another cog in Guardiola’s car.

“It probably adapts to playing in a locker room where there are great players around you,” Southgate says. “It simply came to our notice then. He’s a humble boy, Jack. He is confident enough to take the ball but he has humility. “

Jack Grealish on the ball for England against the Czech Republic during Euro 2020
Jack Grealish on the ball for England against the Czech Republic during Euro 2020. Photo: Tom Jenkins / The Guardian

There was a clear reluctance on Grealish’s side to score. After blinding for Villa suddenly appeared his main attribute was to look back and play a safe pass to João Cancelo. The wit and invention were nowhere to be seen.

Grealish’s football felt tame and his role in City Champions League semi-final defeat against Real Madrid seemed to sum up his good fortune, two wonderful interventions by Ferland Mendy and Thibaut Courtois denying him the goal that would surely have taken City in the final against Liverpool.

Grealish would go on to leave his mark on City’s season. He accepted the challenge as they were 2-0 down at halftime against West Ham in their penultimate game, his goal at the start of the second half triggering a comeback that helped the champions score a decisive point.

“Once I won I was,‘ Come on, give me the ball, ’and I ran against people, trying to create things,” Grealish said after City sealed the title by beating Villa last Sunday. “I felt like myself.”

Southgate, who couldn’t help but laugh at Grealish’s lush celebrations after City won the Premier League, noted those comments. “He spoke from the heart, didn’t he?” he said. “And that was obvious to everyone: to adapt to a completely different way of playing, to adapt to different expectations where you have to win every week, where there is that competition for places.

“He is a very good player. We are blessed to have so many very good players. I imagine there would be some concern about going there and not winning a trophy. He’s done it now, so I’m sure he’ll feel a little calmer. ”

Southgate argues that Grealish is becoming a more rounded player. “He learned a lot from a position,” he says. “His work without the ball has improved. At Villa it was completely unique, he was the one who gave them hope and had complete freedom.

“If you’d told me he wouldn’t score 20 goals this year, well, I wouldn’t expect that. He is the one who likes to be the provider, the one who could play the pass before the help. Does he add to enter the distant post, like Raheem [Sterling] done for a few seasons, maybe he will, maybe he won’t. But I don’t know if that’s how he’s wired. He gets as much enjoyment from creation as he earns. “

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The challenge for Southgate is to lure that ingenuity out of Grealish when England face Hungary on Saturday and then Germany, Italy and Hungary again in their League of Nations group. The tactic, however, will never be simply “give the ball to Jack”.

Southgate also has Harry Kane, Bukayo Sakan, Mason Mount, Phil Foden, Sterling and Jarrod Bowen to choose from in attack. There is no pressure on Grealish to be the talisman and his education at City could suit England. They have always been about the team under Southgate and that will not change before the World Cup.

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