Love at first sight - Why Jeremy Doku’s Man City rise could spell trouble for Jack Grealish
The Belgian winger has made a stunning impact since arriving at the Etihad over the summer.
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I need you to understand that I don’t watch Married at First Sight. Of course I don’t. I have much better things to be doing with my weeknights than setting aside an hour every evening so that I can follow the exploits of a bunch of newly-wed strangers as they embark on a ceaseless zoetrope of petty quarrels and drunken dinner parties.
I do, however, happen to be in the room a lot when my girlfriend is watching, and as a consequence I absorb a certain amount of it through a kind of televisual osmosis. Again, not active interest, pure passive diffusion. Why would I care, for instance, that Laura’s friends had evidently passed judgment on Arthur before ever giving him a fair chance to prove his devotion to her, or that the panel of counsellors allowed Ella and JJ back onto the show despite the fact that they very, very clearly contravened the boundaries of the experiment and therefore SHOULD NOT have been given the opportunity to explore their romantic feelings for each other on the show? I wouldn’t, and I don’t.
In fact, the only reason I mention #MAFSUK at all is because there is a lad on there who has quite obviously modelled his entire look on Jack Grealish. From the designer stubble to the floppy, alice-banded mop of hair, there is no getting away from the fact that he resembles a kind of supermarket own brand version of the Manchester City winger. He is, to all intents and purposes, Jack Greal-ish. And I can’t help wondering whether everybody’s favourite Brummie himbo is aware of his budget doppelganger. I assume he must be; I mean, lord knows he has enough to time to be watching crap reality TV now that Jeremy Doku has arrived at the Etihad.
Prior to this season, had you been asked to describe a typical Pep Guardiola winger, you might have been inclined to mention one or two commonplace traits; an ability to retain possession, perhaps, or an instinct for arriving at the back post to convert simple tap-ins for the sake of compounding already ludicrous scorelines. What you might have omitted, however, is a tendency to drive at defenders in perpendicular thrusts, gobbling them up like a Nokia snake, hammering down the touchline with all the irresistible velocity of a runaway bullet train. But Jeremy Doku may well have changed all of that.
When Guardiola speaks of the Belgian, he does so with a twinkle in his eye, like a reformed cynic softened to a schmaltz by the miracle of parenthood. You can almost see his ostentation melt away, feel the palpable warmth radiating from his beaming grin as he embraces the humble power of the traditional winger, like Ebenezer Scrooge opening his heart to the spirit of Christmas. He is positively dribbling over his newfound dribbler, a snooty food critic knocked to his backside by the blunt majesty of a homemade ratatouille.
And who can really blame him? In eight Premier League outings, Doku has registered seven goal involvements - two goals and a quintet of assists. Five of those contributions came on Saturday alone as the wide man joyously ripped Bournemouth limb from sorry limb; first he scored, and then he handcrafted four more in a 6-1 pestling. It was the kind of showing, even against such lacklustre resistance, that heralds the arrival of something special. Bournemouth may have laid out the red carpet for him, but make no mistake, every soaring note on the celebratory bugle was eked out by Doku himself. And then Pep blew his trumpet a little more.
The stats make for dizzying reading too. According to the white coats at Whoscored, only Tottenham fulcrum James Maddison has recorded a higher average match rating than Doku in the Premier League this season, and only Crystal Palace talisman Eberechi Eze has completed more successful dribbles per 90 minutes. Within a matter of weeks, the 21-year-old has established himself as one of the most direct and fearsome attacking prospects in the most illustrious top flight on the planet. He is the stuff of full-back’s haggard nightmares, a roaving bamboozler - part greyhound, part cobra, part cybernetic killbot. And presumably, he is only going to get better and better and better.
For City, that is quite wonderful news - especially when you consider that they have another visionary Belgian, Kevin de Bruyne - a sort of Tintin in Nike Phantoms - still to return to their attacking fold. The prospect of Doku and his compatriot in synergistic tandem is downright frightening. As such, for the rest of the Premier League, and for Jack Grealish, languishing on the periphery watching E4 reruns of convoluted dating shows, the sudden emergence of City’s summer signing promises little beyond the bleak. It would be hyperbolic to suggest that Grealish’s time in Manchester is effectively over, but quite how he forces his way back into Guardiola’s plans is unclear at this present moment in time.
For his part, the Spaniard has claimed that he wants the England international to be ‘angry’ and to use that emotion as a catalyst for forcing his way back into the starting XI. Some things are easier said than done.