Lockdown controversy: Has Jack Grealish damaged his England chances? | Premier League 2019-20
- Jack Grealish has hit the headlines for the wrong reasons today, but has he harmed his England chances?
- Gareth Southgate will likely not look too kindly on his recent actions during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Despite the struggles of his team, who were embroiled in a fight against relegation prior to the suspension of the Premier League season, Aston Villa captain Jack Grealish has enjoyed a fantastic 2019-20 campaign.
Despite his tremendous form in the EFL Championship in 2018-19, questions hung over the attacker’s ability to affect games in the top flight, but now, those questions have firmly been answered.
At times when watching Dean Smith’s side, it has appeared that Grealish was the only man playing. Not only is he their top scorer with 7 goals, he’s also registered the most assists for the Villains with 6. Playing as either a central playmaker or wide forward, Grealish has created more chances than any other English player this season; he’s also been fouled on more occasions than any other player in the entire Premier League. When it comes to dribbling abilities, the Villa captain – with his deceptive, shuffling style – is second-to-none.
Had the 2019-20 campaign continued – leading into Euro 2020 in the summer – everything was pointing towards Grealish being in England boss Gareth Southgate’s plans for the tournament. Right now, he remains uncapped, but that surely would’ve changed had March’s friendly matches with Italy and Denmark gone ahead. There was even an argument for the Villa captain to be awarded a spot in the Three Lions’ starting XI.
But all of that was before the Covid-19 pandemic, and the chaos, uncertainties and lockdowns that have followed.
The Premier League was of course suspended until further notice on March 13th, while Euro 2020 was postponed and moved to the summer of 2021 a week later. The league’s best players, meanwhile, have since retreated into a form of hibernation, largely training alone in order to follow the UK’s current guidelines around social distancing – guidelines which state that gatherings of more than two people from different households should not be taking place, exercise outdoors should be restricted to once per day, and all unnecessary travel should be avoided.
Grealish was seemingly no different in this sense. His Twitter was relatively quiet since the beginning of the current pandemic – until a video was posted on Saturday re-affirming the message of the UK government, with the Villa captain repeating Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s mantra of “Stay home, protect the NHS, save lives”.
Unfortunately – judging by today’s headlines – Grealish may not have been following his own advice. According to multiple sources, including The Guardian, the 24-year old is now under investigation after a photo purported to be him emerged online following an incident in Solihull that saw a white Range Rover – reportedly belonging to the midfielder – crashed into a number of parked cars.
The reports state that Grealish – who appears to be wearing mismatched footwear in the photo – left his details with a member of the public before leaving the scene on foot. West Midlands police have since confirmed that they are investigating the incident, while Aston Villa are yet to comment.
Of course, there’s no suggestion yet that Grealish has broken any laws; the fact that he left his details with a member of the public at the scene would appear to suggest his willingness to co-operate with any investigation, but there’s no disputing that this isn’t good press for him – particularly as it’s been suggested that he’d been visiting the flat of former teammate Ross McCormack – completely ignoring the UK’s current lockdown rules.
Grealish isn’t the first Premier League star to be exposed for flagrantly ignoring the government’s advice; reports at the weekend also suggested that Everton’s Oumar Niasse was caught by police driving with three friends, paying no attention to the idea of social distancing or the lockdown. But the truth is that this incident could be far more costly to Grealish than he might’ve imagined.
There can be no doubt that the midfielder is an excellent player; his performances this season have shown that and his raw statistics back up the suggestions that he should be a part of the England senior squad. However, it’s also hard to ignore the feeling that – despite no recent incidents – he still can’t seem to keep himself out of trouble.
April 2015, for instance, saw him warned by then-Villa boss Tim Sherwood after he was pictured allegedly inhaling nitrous oxide for recreational purposes, while November 2015 saw him ordered to train with Villa’s U-21 side after he was seen clubbing in North West England after his team’s 4-0 loss to Everton.
Sure, those incidents happened a long time ago – when Grealish was still a teenager – but the midfielder’s critics certainly haven’t forgotten about them and it’s almost a certainty that they’ll be brought up during the current furore around him.
Rival fans will undoubtedly lap this up, too; we’re only a year removed, of course, from the unsavoury incident that saw him punched by a pitch-invading Birmingham City fan during 2019’s Second City Derby. Grealish was not at fault during that incident – and he went onto score the winning goal in the match – but there’s no denying that he’s a player who often draws the wrong kind of attention, particularly from opposing fans.
So what does this mean for his career? At Villa Park, probably very little; Dean Smith’s side can’t afford to disillusion their captain and an incident like this will probably not avert the attention of clubs like Manchester United, who are rumoured to be looking at a move for the midfielder in the summer.
For England though, it could be a massive black mark against him. The fact that he wasn’t called up to Gareth Southgate’s squad in November despite his impressive performances in the Premier League was already baffling to some, but for others, it was a sign that the England boss had too many questions about his best position and perhaps his temperament too.
Sure, he might’ve been called up for the games that should’ve taken place last week, but faced with competition such as Chelsea’s Mason Mount and Ross Barkley – as well as Leicester City’s James Maddison – for the spot as the Three Lions’ playmaker, it was always going to be tricky for him to force himself into Southgate’s side.
Grealish may have seen the postponement of the European Championship to 2021 as a potential boon; essentially, assuming the 2020-21 season goes ahead as normal, he’d have gotten another campaign to prove his worth to Southgate, but the truth is that the extra year may well have ended up counting against him – and against Mount, Barkley and Maddison too.
Manchester City’s 19-year old playmaker Phil Foden – who largely outshone Grealish in the EFL Cup final earlier in March – has been spoken about by Southgate on numerous occasions in the past, but simply wouldn’t have been able to put together the minutes needed to make England’s Euro 2020 squad.
If he plays regularly for Pep Guardiola’s side in 2020-21, though? There can be no doubt that Southgate will look to install him as his side’s main creative hub, leaving Grealish, Mount, Barkley and Maddison grappling for perhaps the same squad place behind him.
Of course, there’s no guarantee that Foden will be given the playing time at the Etihad – but even then, after this incident, will Southgate want to put his trust in Grealish? It’s easy to forget now, but the current Three Lions boss played for his country on many occasions alongside the epitome of a wayward genius – Paul Gascoigne.
‘Gazza’ was wildly popular with England fans and was arguably the most skilled player produced by the country since the 1966 World Cup win – but his behaviour off the pitch always brought his inclusion in Three Lions squads into question, even during his prime years. And of course, his off-pitch issues resulted in his exclusion from England’s 1998 World Cup side.
Right now – after a handful of low-level misdemeanours – it’d be unfair to compare Grealish with Gascoigne, but fears of the Villa man heading down the same path may well be playing a part in the back of Southgate’s mind when it comes to choosing between the 24-year old and the likes of Maddison and Mount.
Grealish may well have thought his actions this weekend were doing no harm – and he may well end up exonerated of any criminal charges by the police, particularly as there’s been no suggestion that he’s broken any law – but depending on what happens from here, he may well have torpedoed his chances with England. And if that’s the case, it’s a massive pity.