Jack Grealish needs to play the way he once did for Aston Villa - or he shoudn't be in the England squad

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Jack Grealish’s place at Euro 2024 is less secure than it should be - England need him to rediscover his spark.

Gareth Southgate was distinctly coy – hesitant, even – when asked about Jack Grealish’s chances of making the final 26-man England squad for Euro 2024. Despite the exclusion of Marcus Rashford and Raheem Sterling and the continuing debate over the use of Phil Foden, the Manchester City winger, now a league champion for a third consecutive season, remains uncertain of his place in the Three Lions’ plans.

“I don’t think we’re defining that just yet,” was the rather vague reply when the England manager was asked if Grealish’s place could be under threat. “It’s hard to be quite so specific because we keep sitting down and saying: ‘OK, if it’s this or this ...’”

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Sufficed to say that it wasn’t a ringing endorsement of Grealish, or indeed an answer containing much substance at all. One can’t expect Southgate to openly talk individual players’ chances up or down before the warm-up matches have even started, of course, but Grealish seems further away from the side than he would have expected to be given the circumstances surrounding other players who are competing for his position.

He will have a chance to stake a claim and remind the watching public of his qualities when England take on Bosnia & Herzegovina at St. James’ Park on Monday evening. With Foden’s place essentially assured regardless of his eventual role, Grealish’s immediate rival for a place in the 26 is Anthony Gordon, who will miss the match at his home ground through injury. This is an audition that is more necessary than it maybe should be.

Grealish’s career since leaving Aston Villa for £100m in 2021 can scarcely be called a failure – he has a colossal collection of medals that make it plain that it has been a success on a very tangible level – but neither has he really stepped up to Pep Guardiola’s plate in the way that might be hoped. At Villa, he was the freewheeling fulcrum of the attack, a piratical winger who could dance through defences and score for the fun of it. At City, he is more pragmatic, more conservative, less thrilling and less dangerous.

In his last two seasons at Villa, Grealish racked up 30 goals and assists in the Premier League – in his three with Manchester City, he has just 22 total. 12 of those came last year when his side won the treble, but there has been a distinct decline in output since then, with just three league goals and a solitary assists coming in the last campaign. It’s hardly an output worthy of his status as the second most expensive Englishman in the history of the sport.

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Gordon, meanwhile, has exploded after a slow start to his career at Newcastle United. The whippet-like young winger bagged 11 goals and racked up 10 assists in a side that finished six places below Grealish’s – where Gordon lead his attack with confidence and aplomb, Grealish was a cog in a larger machine, and a somewhat squeaky one at that.

There are plenty of data points which suggest that Grealish really hasn’t been that bad – he still generates a healthy volume of shooting chances for his team-mates (more than Gordon, despite the large gulf in assists), his passing accuracy has gone up, he still gets in plenty of dangerous areas in the final third, his goals-per-game ratio is actually slightly better, and so on. But stats don’t get the goal in the back of the net, and when it comes to international football, where the lack of time for teams to gel and develop complex tactical structures places more emphasis on the quality of the individual, Grealish’s recent form has been concerning.

When it all comes down to it, Southgate needs production, and needs players who can score the key goal when the tournament is on the line. That doesn’t seem to be Grealish any more, if it ever was. In his 35 caps for the national team, he has just two goals, against Andorra and Iran, and the most recent was 18 months ago at the World Cup.

Gordon, of course, is essentially unproven for England. He has just two caps and hasn’t yet scored, although he does have a strong record with the Under-21s to point to and he looked lively against Brazil in March. It is unfortunate for him that he will miss this first chance to impress Southgate in front of a potentially partisan crowd – but it is a chance that Grealish must seize if his is to claim that seat on the flight to Germany.

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Southgate needs the Villa version of Grealish. He needs to daring dribbler who menaced defences and took matches by the scruff of their necks. The man himself is still there, with all his outward insouciance and public displays of drunkenness that disguise considerable drive and hunger, but as a player there is a feeling that Guardiola’s machine has ripped the wings off of the butterfly.

And what Southgate doesn’t really need is the City edition, the solid and competent part of a greater whole who contributes by keeping things ticking along soundly. If he can’t convince against Bosnia & Herzegovina, then not only is he unlikely to make the final squad, but he probably shouldn’t make it either.

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