Jack Grealish's England omission proves uncomfortable truth that could result in Man City exit

Jack Grealish's omission from the England squad raises a lot of questions about his Manchester City future.Jack Grealish's omission from the England squad raises a lot of questions about his Manchester City future.
Jack Grealish's omission from the England squad raises a lot of questions about his Manchester City future. | Getty Images
The Manchester City winger may look enviously at Cole Palmer’s success since leaving the Etihad.

As Jack Grealish put the final preparations in place for the 2017/18 season, the then Aston Villa protegee suffered a potentially life-threatening injury.

Following a freak collision with Tom Cleverly in the summer’s last pre-season friendly against Watford, Grealish had to be rushed into surgery after his kidney split in two places.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“It's the worst pain I've ever been in,” he told the Mirror in a 2018 interview. “They found out what it was and I was rushed to the Queen Elizabeth [Hospital] for an operation. Before it happened, the surgeon had to tell me the consequences of what could happen if it didn't work. He looked me in the eye and said, 'Jack, you could die'.”

This was ahead of a season where Steve Bruce had handed Grealish the no.10 jersey and earmarked the burgeoning talent as a player whom he would build his team around. Instead his star man missed the first third of the campaign and didn’t start a game until mid-December.

That, undoubtedly, remains the lowest point of Grealish’s career, but seven years on and Thursday’s England omission might come a close second, with the Manchester City winger not selected in Gareth Southgate’s final 26-man squad that will travel to Germany.

In a career of so many highs, it’s surprising how many footballing disappointments he’s suffered along the way. A 2018 play-off final defeat at his boyhood Villa, a three-month injury layoff in 2021 and then a frustrating first season after his £100m switch to the Etihad, a campaign that ended with Grealish watching from the bench as a comeback victory over Villa secured the title.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

That felt less concerning than the 28-year-old’s current predicament - everyone struggles in their first year under Pep Guardiola, after all. But two years later and there have to be serious questions asked about the direction of Grealish’s career.

Even in mid-April, with just two months of the campaign left and City hunting a treble, it seemed that Grealish was in a good place. “I feel good, I feel fit and I feel like I'm playing with good confidence. Hopefully, I can bring that into the end of the season,” he said at the time, while reflecting on how a loss of confidence and injury issues were now behind him.

Grealish played nine of 10 games across late March to early May - the exception being at home to Luton Town, when several players were rested ahead of the second leg against Real Madrid. The wide attacker started both ties against the European champions and in the FA Cup semi- final against Chelsea.

But the campaign ended with Grealish watching from the bench at Wembley as City were beaten in the cup final. Needing attacking options to change the game, it was Jeremy Doku and Julian Alvarez who Guardiola turned to rather than the club-record signing. 

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

That was the fourth consecutive City match that Grealish didn’t feature in, while he ended the campaign with one start in seven. It’s that run which has ultimately cost him a place in the England squad, plus an inability to produce game-changing moments, unlike Phil Foden, Cole Palmer, Bukayo Saka, Jarred Bown, Eberechi Eze and Anthony Gordon, all of whom produced at least 15+ goals involvements in 2023/24. Grealish managed just six.

That so many wide attackers were selected above him is perhaps the clearest indication yet that Grealish’s career is on a downward trajectory. Palmer couldn’t get a game ahead of him last year, now the Chelsea attacker is keeping his old team-mate out of the England squad.

Grealish apologists may claim Guardiola has never afforded him the sort of freedoms given to the likes of Foden and Kevin De Bruyne. Then again, has City’s no.10 ever really done enough to warrant a free role, especially under a manager who meticulously plans every tactical component?

Likewise, Southgate has never really trusted him either. The England boss ignored the media clamour for Grealish’s selection until he had essentially become something of national treasure. But it’s remarkable to think England’s second most-expensive player has made just 15 international starts, only 10 competitively and one in major tournaments. He’s also started just two of the Three Lions’ last 13 matches.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

His career regression begs the question whether Grealish, like Palmer, would benefit from playing in a side that offers him more creative freedom.

There may be a willingness on City’s behalf to let him leave if the price is right this summer, but it’s difficult to imagine a scenario where they’d accept less than £50m for a player that cost double that less than three years ago, even if Foden, Doku, Bernardo Silva, Oscar Bobb and potentially Savio are options on the wings next season.

“He [Grealish] will be back,” was Guardiola’s prediction after the FA Cup final loss to Manchester United. “He’s struggled this season. Jeremy has made an incredible step forward as everyone has seen in the last games. But Jack will be back at the level of last season – I'm pretty sure.”

That he still retains the trust of Guardiola could ultimately save Grealish’s City career, unless he actively pushes for an exit.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Either way, this feels like a line-in-the-sand moment for a career that can be summarised by significantly contrasting moments. Something needs to change; either things improve at City, or the time has come to move on.

Related topics:

Comment Guidelines

National World encourages reader discussion on our stories. User feedback, insights and back-and-forth exchanges add a rich layer of context to reporting. Please review our Community Guidelines before commenting.