Wednesday, 14 October 2020

Grealish snub proves Southgate is no longer the man for England




 The off-the-cuff ingenuity of the Aston Villa man could unleash the attacking potential in a gifted England generation but the manager is reluctant

It was surely a first in the history of the England team; a man-of-the-match full debutant failing to get a single minute on the pitch three days later in the very next game.


Gareth Southgate’s relationship with Jack Grealish has moved on from suspect to faintly ridiculous in the last week. It has moved from glaring squad omissions for spurious reasons to weirdly evasive answers to questions concerning the Aston Villa captain’s performance in an England shirt.


Southgate seemed desperate to talk about anything else after the 3-0 victory over Wales, most notably the qualities of Grealish’s main rival for a spot, Mason Mount. It was a baffling next step in a relationship that has always been uneasy. 

First there was the explanation that Southgate couldn’t pick Grealish until he had Premier League experience, a condition given despite the fact Mount had received a call-up while on loan at Derby County.


Then there was the mysterious overlooking of Grealish during a purple patch of form in autumn 2019. Then came the strange explanation there was too much competition from Jadon Sancho, Mason Greenwood, and Marcus Rashford, players who could scarcely be more different technically, tactically, and positionally from the Villa No.10.


Next came the bizarre, unprompted reference to Villa fans ‘who have never forgiven me for leaving for Middlesbrough’ when discussing Grealish’s continued absence from the squad.

 

It seems Grealish is incapable of changing Southgate’s mind, no matter how well he plays for club or country, with the England manager unshakeable in his belief his players must diligently conform to a functional battle plan.


And while this might appear to be an isolated incident, his preference for Mount over Grealish acutely symbolises a wider problem. When the moment calls for idiosyncrasy, Southgate chooses pragmatism; as the England squad becomes progressive, Southgate retreats to conservatism.



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