Is Jack Grealish being unfairly treated by Gareth Southgate?
Background Image Via: Wikimedia Commons/M(e)ister Eiskalt. CC BY-SA 3.0.
Make no mistake about it, heading into the delayed EURO 2020, Jack Grealish was England's poster boy. The Aston Villa star is used to being a talisman, having been at the forefront for his boyhood club ever since breaking through in the 2015/16 campaign.
Grealish had to wait a little longer for his England chance. Despite pledging his allegiance to the Three Lions over six years ago, after playing for the Republic of Ireland at youth level. It has always felt like Gareth Southgate has been a little cagey when it comes to selecting Grealish, be it for squads or starting games. But why?
Well, up until the last couple of years, Grealish had been playing his club football in the Championship. That doesn't technically make it impossible to earn an international call-up - but it definitely weakens your hand, at least initially. It's no surprise to see the 25-year-old would earn his first senior call-up on the back of a brilliant campaign back in the big time.
Grealish has been eased into things for his country. Over his first five games when selected, the attacker started once and appeared once off the substitutes bench, totalling 90 minutes of action. The Villa star would sit out three games completely. The situation would then completely turn on its head. Grealish would start the next five games he was available for, including England's last two friendlies ahead of EURO 2020. He'd be at his brilliant best in these matches, consistently threatening the opposing defences with pace, guile, trickery and on-ball skills. Despite not scoring, Grealish was heading into his first major international tournament in great form.
Sadly, for the fans who thrive off Grealish's excitement, Southgate has typically played it safe. And that's exactly what the Birmingham-born attacker shouldn't be surprised at starting just one game at the European Championships. Southgate knows what it takes to progress in major tournaments. He's been there plenty of times as both player and manager. It's not about being flashy, nor is it about scoring multiple goals game-in-game-out. It's simply about getting the job done.
You know what? I don't think Grealish is letting it affect him. Typically, it's the English press trying to stir up some sort of drama because sadly, that's what they love to do. I mean, yeah, it must've been a pretty grim feeling when you've been subbed on and off within the space of 37 minutes of a major semi-final, but look at the video above following the victory. Grealish is smiling and laughing with his teammates. He knows that it's all about the end result.
Football is now more of a squad game than it has ever been before; both domestically and internationally. The reason why you have a 26-man squad for these major tournaments is so you can chop and change personnel depending on your system. To say that Grealish hasn't made an impact on this tournament would be unfair. He'd start against the Czech Republic in a vital group game. Grealish would tack on the assist as Raheem Sterling scored the only goal of the game. He'd then back that up with another assist against Germany, sealing England's place in the quarter-finals. How's that for contribution?
I mean, yeah, I'm sure Grealish would've loved to start every game but that's not possible at this point in his career. Let's be honest, the only nailed-on starters for Southgate in the attacking third are the aforementioned Sterling and Harry Kane. These guys have been doing the business at the elite club level for years. Grealish has some catching up to do in that regard. The good news? He has time on his side, and a few more major tournaments in him yet...
It's worth noting that Grealish has played some part in four of England's six games. I wouldn't be surprised if he's involved in the final in some capacity, too. Honestly, I believe we're overthinking it, with some England fans caring far more about the situation than probably Grealish himself does. Let's just sit back and enjoy watching a supreme talent work when he's called upon by his manager to do so, eh...?