Reasons why Gareth Southgate made a mistake by excluding Jack Grealish for the Euros according to Ian Ladyman


It is almost a year since Jack Grealish climbed off the Manchester City party bus, wrung the beer from his T-shirt and joined up with the England squad for a Euro 2024 qualifier in Malta.

It was hot, it was sunny and Grealish’s positioning as the new poster boy of English football was complete.

Grealish was 27, a Treble winner and the face of the Gucci fashion brand. But even then there was a sense of possible impermanence. England had, after all, been down this way before with gifted, almost maverick players and it hadn’t always worked out.

‘As I said to the City players, we are all in the unknown a little bit,’ Southgate replied. ‘We’ve had teams in the Champions League final but we haven’t had a team that has won a Treble, so for that group of players and staff, things will never be the same again.

12 months ago Jack Grealish and his Manchester City team-mates were celebrating winning a historic Treble

Despite another Premier League success, Grealish finds himself out of England's Euros squad

Despite another Premier League success, Grealish finds himself out of England’s Euros squad

The England boss insisted that recent club form was a key factor in his decision making

‘You never get that group together again and everything changes in their lives. But anything I say to them about the future I would do privately. I don’t think discussing that publicly would serve any purpose.’

It all felt rather trifling at the time. A conversation about ifs and buts and maybes. But here we are in June 2024 and, as Southgate prepares to take a squad of 26 to the European Championship in Germany, Grealish will not be in it.

If it’s not quite a fall from grace, it’s certainly a hell of a comedown for a player who has always looked at home in England colours.

For what it’s worth, I think Southgate has made a mistake. Grealish has always been a positive influence on any England squad he has graced and Southgate admitted as much on Thursday. ‘I think the world of the kid,’ he said.

Grealish is also supremely talented and would have given a dynamic option from the bench. Unlike Cole Palmer, Jarrod Bowen, Anthony Gordon and Eberechi Eze, he has tournament experience which can be invaluable when pressure builds.

Southgate has picked on form and on numbers, though, and from that point of view the odds had been against Grealish ever since he ended his domestic season with a total of 10 minutes of football in the last month.

The noises coming out of City regarding Pep Guardiola’s diminishing faith in the player the club bought from Aston Villa for £100million in the summer of 2021 had been increasingly audible for a while.

In the wake of City’s defeat by Manchester United in the FA Cup final two weeks ago, Guardiola denied there was an issue and suggested Grealish would ‘return to his top level’ soon enough. What spoke more loudly, though, was that, as City were trying to recover a 2-0 deficit against their great rivals at Wembley, Grealish had been left on the bench.

The winger was an unused substitute in City's 2-1 FA Cup defeat to Man United last month

The winger was an unused substitute in City’s 2-1 FA Cup defeat to Man United last month

There have been noises that City boss Pep Guardiola is not as fond of Grealish as he once was. A point the Spaniard has denied

Southgate is a firm believer in instinct. He tends to trust his own eyes and his own interpretation of the way form can fluctuate. He does take counsel from club managers, though, and Guardiola will have been honest with him in terms of the struggles endured by one of his senior players over the last nine months.

Grealish will be devastated at his omission, especially after an impressive cameo as a substitute against Bosnia in Newcastle on Monday night. Equally, he does not lack self-awareness.

When I sat down with him for 45 minutes about a month out from that Treble success last year, he was wearing a Gucci tracksuit worth in excess of £10,000 but his outlook on his life and career could not have been more real or more candid.

Speaking about the differences between himself and clubmate Erling Haaland, he joked that the Norwegian forward liked to have an ice bath after a game whereas he preferred a beer.

Refuelling, a word once used by the late Sir Bobby Robson about Paul Gascoigne, has always been a challenge for Grealish. He told me he sometimes wished he could have led a different life, where anonymity granted him a licence to roam more freely.

He told me he had worn a wig on a night out in Manchester to ensure his anonymity. To this day, I am not sure if he was joking.

Grealish hardly drank at all during the second half of last season, but he has admitted to struggling with the mental demands of a campaign spent in the wake of last year’s triumph.

What do you give the footballer who has everything? The chance to do it again, frankly. For Grealish that proved a little too much, even if it wasn’t a subject into which Southgate was keen to delve on Thursday.

Grealish has admitted to struggling with the mental demands of a campaign spent in the wake of last year’s triumph

Grealish has admitted to struggling with the mental demands of a campaign spent in the wake of last year’s triumph

The 28-year-old’s candid and fun-loving image is at odds with the work he puts in on and off the pitch

‘I don’t think today is a good day to talk about the bigger picture,’ he said. ‘I don’t think it would be fair. I have just delivered a really difficult conversation to a lad who is devastated. I am not going to go any broader than that.’

What about Guardiola? Has he played a part in this, too? Undoubtedly. Grealish has been moulded into a different player in his three years with the Catalan. The free-rein runner of Villa Park has been transformed at City into a player for whom team play and structure are paramount. It’s worked for the team but has it worked for the player?

One of Grealish’s most oft-heard instructions from Guardiola is to win free-kicks. It could not be more pragmatic, less romantic, less ‘Grealish’ if it came lathered in Birmingham City blue.

We should not give up on Grealish, though. He is a hardy type. The devil-may-care image doesn’t reflect the reality. He cares deeply about his football and values playing for his country greatly. It won’t be long before we see photos of him on holiday on a Balearic island or Las Vegas or some such outpost. He won’t spend the summer crying about his exclusion. Here at camp England, however, he will be missed.

‘He can light up a room,’ said Declan Rice. ‘This week he’s been hilarious and has had everyone in stitches. When he came on the other night, I thought he was excellent, chased his socks off and his mentality was top-level. I can’t speak highly enough of him.

‘I don’t know what his life is like but he’s a top guy and I’m gutted for him because he’s one of my best friends. He’s such a down- to-earth, positive person and he is so positive about this group.’

Grealish may not be apart of England's campaign this summer but he could yet return in improved form next season

Grealish may not be apart of England’s campaign this summer but he could yet return in improved form next season

Rice also nodded to the benefits of a summer without football for Grealish and it was a good point. That may benefit Grealish and City, and maybe England, too.

It seems wrong to imagine a 26-man England squad without its Jack the Lad.

Ultimately, a season’s work of three goals and three assists in a Premier League-winning team has done for him.

It will, however, be a surprise if he isn’t back next season.



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